Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake
Friday, July 26, 2013
Better than: The (actually very fun) Uber ride I shared with four middle-aged drunk ladies when none of us could handle the thousand-person line for the bus to Candlestick from the Glen Park BART Station.
There was a moment Friday night, midway through Jay-Z's ferocious execution of "99 Problems," when Justin Timberlake -- light on his feet to the point of seeming skittish, blond tresses glinting in the night -- hopped to the mic and screwed his face into a smirk to drawl the song's perfect asshole-cop lines: "Son, do you know why I'm stopping you for?"
All eyes were on JT, and this weird display of pop-culture camp ("He's playing the part of the ignorant white guy! Wait a minute") for about 15 seconds, then boomeranged back to the other side of the stage, where Hova, in a backwards Nets cap, continued to pace, spitting lyrics with a dark, even-handed confidence. There would be no hopping around, and very little smiling.
That kind of theatrical foil relationship played out -- sometimes thrillingly, sometimes awkwardly -- for a little over two hours. It was visible even through expertly timed choreography, audible despite stadium acoustics and a seriously powerful 14-piece band, in a nearly-full stadium featuring a disproportionate number of screaming girls, on what was likely Candlestick's last stage. (Incidentally, an Internet search for "last show at Candlestick" will turn up a plethora of videos about the Beatles' last show at Candlestick, if you want to talk about legends and screaming girls.)
In any event, 2013's Legends of Summer, as the pair decided to brand themselves this month, went big in every possible sense of the word. This was a spectacle, and it was an impressive one. They opened together, with "Holy Grail," their collaboration on Jay-Z's barely three-week-old Magna Carta, and then stayed together longer than one might expect, performing well over half the 35-song set side by side. This resulted in some sweet surprises: Having JT and the band do a verse or two of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" before sliding into Jay-Z's "Izzo" sounded 10 times better than the sample on that song usually does. And a fedora-clad Timberlake, alone in a spotlight, doing a Sinatra-style "New York, New York" intro and outro for Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" almost made up for the canned Alicia Keys vocals.
For the most part, though, they took turns playing their respective singles, with Timberlake grooving through "Rock Your Body," "SexyBack, "LoveStoned," "Cry Me A River" and an especially searing "What Goes Around Comes Around." "Take Back the Night," off the new The 20/20 Experience, is A) the JT song that most takes advantage of having a great live band; B) apparently, unfortunately, not at all about preventing rape on college campuses; and C) the most blatant Michael Jackson rip-off -- sorry, "tribute" -- he's made to date.
It's not that Timberlake's not a great entertainer, because he is. He's charming and adorable and very skilled at all of the things he does, including (at this show) playing respectable acoustic guitar and piano. It's just that no matter how much "soul" he tries to project, there's always a wink about it ("I am performing the act of being a performer!") and more often than not it comes off like he's playing to the judges on America's Next Top Something. Or, um, like he's trapped in the body of a former Mickey Mouse Club member?
The juxtaposition with Jay-Z didn't help there, because even at his least impressive -- like on "Tom Ford," where even he sounds bored by the end -- Jay-Z sure doesn't have anything to prove, and he knows it. He's still imposing, still quietly solid and aggressive without trying too hard. He can still get away with lines like "I check cheddar like a food inspector" in a way that somehow makes you take him seriously. "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" followed by "Niggas in Paris" was a highlight.
They closed as big as they opened, descending a staircase side-by-side, champagne flutes in hand, for "Suit &Tie," followed by Jay-Z asking for lighters -- "iPhones, whatever" -- in the air before dedicating "Young Forever" to Trayvon Martin, because of course he did. At which point, a glance around the stadium as fans obliged was actually weirdly breathtaking. Legendary is a strong word, but as farewell shows go, Candlestick got a solid one.
-- Would probably pay a good amount of money just to see this backing band. Four backup vocalists, four-piece horn section, super talented electric guitarists.
-- Attempts to make this stop on the tour Bay Area-specific included Jay-Z performing half of Too $hort's "Blow the Whistle," and JT at one point saying "Bay Areaaa."
-- Images projected, seizure-inducing screensaver-style, onto the vaguely space-age wings of the stage: Roman statues, giant snakes, George W. Bush on a TV set, fire.