Bye, bye, bye ‘N Sync. Hello Justin Timberlake. With his debut solo album “Justified,” Timberlake has set the ball in motion for a promising career sans J.C., Joey, Lance and Chris. With his current tour, which also features fellow former Mouseketeer Christina Aguilera, Timberlake is showing a more grownup side.
The choreographed dance moves still are there, but without the baggage of a couple of less-nimble band members, Timberlake has carte blanche to move unencumbered by worries about being in sync with his boys.
In the first of two consecutive Chicago-area shows Tuesday at Rosemont’s Allstate Arena–the “Justified-Stripped Tour” also hit United Center on Wednesday–Timberlake’s 90-minute set was heavy on cuts from “Justified.” He opened his set with “Rock Your Body,” which is known in some circles as “that Bally’s song.”
Looking lean and buff in baggy white slacks and a sleeveless hoodie, Timberlake showed off some intricate dance moves of the pop- and-lock kind that suited his musical style. As to what that style is these days, it’s a continuation of the smooth R&B-inspired direction ‘N Sync was going with “Gone” and “Girlfriend.” The best songs from “Justified” (“Cry Me a River,” “Like I Love You”) seamlessly segue with that genre, and Timberlake’s deceptively sweet, soulful delivery suits him.
His one concession to his ‘N Sync tours was a giant crane that went over part of the audience. Perched on the crane, Timberlake showcased his invigorating beat-box skills, seemingly oblivious to the screams that almost drowned him out.
Like Aguilera who preceded him, Timberlake had some “is it live or is it Memorex” moments. I’m sure their people would swear up and down that the youthful duo didn’t rely on any prerecorded tracks. I’d like them to know that Orlando Bloom also is waiting for me to give him a jingle real soon.
Both stars are just 22 and achieved mega-stardom while they were still teens. While Timberlake exhibited all the boyish charm of a man not quite ready to grow up, Aguilera was a tiny vamp–a baby Cher-in-training. Trading in the soft blond locks that defined her “Genie in a Bottle” days, the singer sported long, jet-black hair and a sexy style that often overpowered her tiny frame.
Her best costume change–and there were many–wasn’t one of the sexier, skintight numbers, but, rather, a pair of plain jeans and a white T-shirt that read “God Sees No Color.”
That Aguilera has a strong, beautiful voice is undeniable regardless of what you think of her songs. She was completely comfortable performing a brilliantly theatrical version of “Contigo en la Distancia.” And on her current album, “Stripped,” it’s evident she has grown into her booming voice. Too often, though, that voice got lost amid all the percussion.
And covering Etta James’ “At Last,” she was just a little girl playing make-believe. Much of the song’s beauty is derived from James’ emotional, understated delivery, which conveys the singer’s love and longing. Aguilera infused so many vocal histrionics into the song that the impact of the words were lost on the “American Idol”-style vamping.
Compare that to her a cappella intro to “Beautiful”–easily the highlight of her set.
As for her previous hits, Aguilera made it clear she has no plans to revisit them the way we remember. Her breakthrough pop hit, “Genie in a Bottle,” became an S&M anthem as she slowed it down and seductively sang while strapped to a giant “X.” She made a nice attempt to reinvent “Come On Over (All I Want Is You)” into an acoustic number, but let’s face it–the only thing that song ever had going for it was Aguilera’s peppy delivery.