Justin Timberlake @ Arena Birmingham, 27 August 2018

Justin Timberlake, one of the world’s best-selling artists and pop icon, has yet again pulled off a spectacular musical performance with his ‘Man of the Woods’ Tour, confirming, if it was ever in doubt, his status as a consummate singer-songwriter and exceptional performer.

The striking set complete with winding road, stylised forest trees and long grass hinted at the modern-rootsy extravaganza in store for the packed arena and didn’t disappoint with the opening track ‘Filthy’ setting the tone for the evening. Heralded as a major departure from Timberlake’s quintessential pop/RnB style, the tune vibrated with electro-funk guitars and keyboards alongside a more mature vocal from the man himself however, the strobe lighting and precision choreography made it absolutely clear Timberland’s pop band roots were still very much in play.

The party vibe continued with ‘Love Stoned’ which saw the man of the moment channelling the funk-soul idol James Brown in the flawless dance routine, instrumentals and vocals, ramping up the bass and guitars in a way not heard on the studio recording and adding a decidedly delicious raunchy tone. This carried over to the next performance of ‘SexyBack’ with screaming electric guitars and high-octane drum performances coupled with Timberlake’s pulsating vocals clearly establishing this as a more mature and intense Justin Timberlake, leaving the anodyne days of ‘Justified’ well and truly in the past.

The tone became more measured with the performance of ‘Man of the Woods’, the title track from his 5th album. Reportedly dedicated to his son, it seemed so apparent that Timberlake views this track as his crowning achievement. He vocalised the lyrics with a sense of pride and sentimentality which did justice to this masterful piece of song-writing, similarly resonated in ‘Higher Higher’ with its aching, throbbing guitar juxtaposed with Timberlake’s soft vibrato.

The show was very much a study in juxtaposition and contrasts. After being regaled by the burgeoning maturity of Timberlake’s song writing and performance odyssey, we’re taken almost back to the beginnings with ‘Senorita’. Dazzling drumming by his side, the pop idol took to the stage on keyboard, traversing key changes with vocals oozing sensuality, reminding us that he still can, and is, the best at enchanting us with those sensual rhythms.

And again, the performance of ‘Suit & Tie’ began with a highly choreographed opening and saw Timberlake singing in his signature falsetto range as well as pulling off a spectacular solo dance and light performance centre stage which had the audience entranced. The dancing continued with the pop superstar encouraging everyone to get out of their seats and dance to ‘My Love’ and ‘Cry Me a River’ whilst he regaled them with his DJ skills accompanied by synthesised keyboard and rock guitar.

For me, the highlight of the evening was the performance of ‘Mirrors’. His rousing and powerful performance of this epic love anthem had a striking effect on both the performer and the audience alike and capped off the first half or the show with immense feelings of awe and respect for this admirable man.

If the first half of the show was about choreography and showmanship, the second was definitely focused on vocal performance. ‘Until the End’ saw Timberlake’s soulful melody, lyrics and guitar strumming, enhanced by the accompaniment of a mournful cello, making this romantic classic a pleasure to behold. This was proceeded by an array of backing singer covers such as ‘’Ex-factor’ and ‘Come Together’ sung around a real campfire and accompanied by Timberlake on guitar altogether giving the impression of JT as a ‘down home’ real man of the woods, much suited to the now married father of one. Performances of ‘Morning Light’ and ‘What Goes Around’ showcasing Timberlake’s laconic style with simple acoustic guitar and aching vocals, full of emotion continued this line. But what followed was something special…an absolutely magical rendition of ‘Say Something’ with powerful vocals set against a mesmerising horn section and backing vocals. The audience were totally absorbed by the amazing talent being effortlessly flaunted on the stage.

In the climactic stages of the show, we were treated to a medley of some of Timberlake’s most well know and critically acclaimed tunes such as ‘Rock Your Body’, ‘Supplies’ and ‘Like I Love You’. The body contorting dance moves and crisp lyrics belie the man who is now well into his 3rd decade and left us in no doubt that Justin Timberlake is still at the top of his game, no less signified than with the finale of ‘Got the Feeling’.

Overall, the ‘Man of the Woods’ Tour was both a musical and dance spectacular; a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. The juxtaposition of old and new tracks as well as the showcasing of signature Timberlake pop and the more divergent, experimental tunes heralded from the rooftops that the idol is here to stay and has so much more to give.

Reviewer: Sharon Green

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