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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Janet Jackson Unbreakable Tour: Opening Night Report

I just got back from the opening night of Janet's first tour in four years. I was going to post this tomorrow, but I thought I might as well try to recap while my mind's still fresh.

First, a little background for those that might not read this blog frequently. I've been a Janet fan as long as I've been a music fan. She was my first pop star obsession and still the barometer with which I measure any others. I saw her once during the All For You tour, but I can't say I remember all that much from the experience. I was super excited to hear that she was coming to Vancouver. I live just south of the border and frequent the city often. It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that it struck me that not only was I seeing Janet live, but I was seeing her live on opening night. I had no idea what to expect. I mean, I adore the lady, but she is decidedly middle-aged (not that you'd know it by watching her) and hasn't released new music for awhile. The venue was a stadium, but they only used about a third of it, I'd say, which meant the stage was pushed up way close so that every seat seemed like a great seat. It was certainly much, much closer than I was back when I saw her in 2001.

So, the show... I'd say it blew any expectations I could have had out of the water. There is more funk and fierceness in even Janet's smallest move than in any performer out there right now. She most certainly still has "it." She looks better than she has since the 90's, she sounds great, and she moves with a swagger only time and experience can build. Honestly, and I know it's kind of a cliche to say it, but it's like she hasn't aged since The Velvet Rope era.

The show itself was divided into three extended medleys, each with its own distinct color. We opened with a somewhat dark, super epic video of ravens (or crows? Some kind of creepy dark bird) flocking until they sort of formed Janet's silhouette. This was accompanied by an incredibly fierce spoken word intro that I hope is the opening of the upcoming album. It sounded like it could be.

After this, she launched into the first of the show's three parts, which I guess I'd label as the pop/dance section. She blazed her way through her arsenal of classics--all the uptempo hits from Control and Rhythm Nation, with All For You and Feedback mixed in--looking amazing in a white corset-type top and harem pants. We also got to hear a new uptempo dance track (Unbreakable?) that featured Missy Elliot and sounded freaking awesome.

The second of the three acts was the ballad/groove section. This opened with another new track, an emotional, spare ballad presumably called "After the Fall." It almost had an alternative rock vibe to it. Very different for Janet, and it seemed pretty personal. Then we got the amazing Again, Come Back to Me, I Get Lonely, Let's Wait Awhile, Throb (!!!!), That's the Way Love Goes, Got 'Til It's Gone, Any Time, Any Place, No Sleeep... and I'm probably forgetting something. The tempo gradually rose through this section until we got to the Deeper Remix of Together Again. This segued into the anthemic, uptempo original. Pure transcendence, for sure.

The last section was a personal favorite. Just listen to this back-to-back assault: Black Cat, then If, then Scream (!!!!!), then Rhythm Nation. I LOVE Janet's harder edged tracks, and grouping them all together like this was almost too much to take. What a smart move, and an incredible climax to the show. I've always been a massive fan of the underrated Black Cat, in particular, and firmly believe it has one of the best guitar riffs in rock music. The rockier version of If was also incredible.

After this, we were treated to an encore of sorts, which comprised of two new songs. It was a little weird to close with songs nobody knew, especially after the high point of Rhythm Nation. First was a dramatic ballad hybrid that got a little clubby towards the end. BIG chorus on this one. It was definitely in line with her more socially-conscious work. After that, we heard a groovier track to end the show. I remember it had a nice hook, but it was really hard to hear. It definitely had that classic Janet beat, though.

Speaking of beats, one of the show's greatest assets was the fact that Janet was backed by a live band who were featured prominently on the stage. The arrangements of the songs were spectacular... very loose and playful. They teased every bit of funk out of those old classics to the point where they sounded very new again. The whole thing felt much more alive than when I saw her back in 2001. If there was any complaint I'd have, it would be that I wish she interacted more with the audience between songs. There was plenty of interaction during the performances, but I would have loved some more candid moments where she would have just talked to us... told us what's been going on these four years. But then again, that's never been Janet's way. It's one of the many reasons I adore her so much. She's not a "me me me" type of popstar (like so many of this era). We'll know her through her music. She'll deliver the goods. No fuss needed.

I'm certainly glad I saw her again. In so many ways, the show tonight was better than the one in 2001. Smaller, definitely, but you could tell the crowd was ferociously devoted. Janet inspires that kind of devotion. It's not often you get to see a legend perform. I can't wait to hear the new album. From what I heard and saw tonight, it sounds like a return to form.  

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