A thick air of sexual tension clouded Nationwide Arena the moment Justin Timberlake’s shadow rose up from inside the stage.
Because when you’re JT, your shadow is enough to woo a sold-out audience of thousands.
But the audience Saturday night saw much more than a dapper Timberlake in a variety of well-cut suits.
At times he was Jay Gatsby, putting on an extravagant party for all of the city. Then he was James Bond, complete with his Bond girls and a backdrop montage that appeared as if Ian Fleming himself had dreamed it. He was a madman with a demonic voice, facilitated by a voice changer in his microphone, with scenes from classic horror movies playing behind him during “True Blood.”
He was the Phantom of the Opera, Rocky, Johnny Cash, Elvis and Michael Jackson (whom he paid tribute to with Jackson’s “Human Nature”) all rolled into one.
As Timberlake’s two-part “20/20 Experience” album suggests, with many songs pushing seven minutes or longer, he’s a guy who takes his time. He took it nice and slow for Columbus, dancing and flirting through an almost too long three-hour set with a 10-minute intermission to break things up.
He justified his intermission with, “The intermission is just, I’m 32. And it’s my show. So f— you man.”
He kicked things off with the elaborate string intro of “Pusher Love Girl,” the track that’s also the first taste of Timberlake on “The 20/20 Experience.” Amid searching spotlights, he transitioned into “Rock Your Body,” taking no time getting the audience hot and bothered.
Timberlake’s strength came from his stripped-down performances, offering the audience more than his albums could. “My Love” and “Summer Love,” in particular, benefited from this, both starting slow and meticulously composed before picking up in true Timberlake style. The intro to “What Goes Around … Comes Around” was also executed perfectly on the acoustic guitar.
Whether on the main stage, the platform that elevated and floated over the audience or a smaller stage in the back of the arena, Timberlake’s moves were choreographed and executed flawlessly. This was articulated best with Timberlake in front of a backdrop featuring holograms of himself — the human, the holograms and the sound of his enthusiastic Tennessee Kids band all moved as one.
At the height of the sexual tension, Timberlake took to a keyboard and banged out “Señorita” — with just about every woman in the audience drooling over his swaying hips and wishing they were that keyboard or a backup dancer.
The concert ran more like a well-crafted film, with cinematic elements splashed across the backdrop screens and theatrical transitions. Timberlake gyrated through the catalogues of both parts of “The 20/20 Experience,” “FutureSex/LoveSounds” and even some of 2002’s “Justified,” much to the delight of the audience.
His between-song talks to the crowd were limited, but when he did pause to speak, his interactions were animated — he even took a shot with the VIP section.
“You know it’s not a party, Ohio, until you let me drink with you,” he said.
Timberlake’s comment on it being cold outside (about 57 degrees out at showtime) prompted shouts of disagreement from the audience.
“That’s not cold to you? Y’all really are from Ohio,” Timberlake responded. “I’m used to that sissy L.A. weather.”
An enthusiastic audience member triggered Timberlake to say, “Well we don’t have to get into a conversation about it, we should keep the show going.
“I think she’s drunk. I am too.”