Between the third song ("My Love") and the fourth ("Señorita") of his sold-out show at Madison Square Garden, Justin Timberlake gathered his band at the center of the 360-degree stage for a celebratory drink. He downed a shot and shuddered. "I felt like such a man before I took that shot," he told the crowd. "Kids, don't try that at home." The twenty-six-year-old was ostensibly toasting his first time headlining the Garden since 2000, when he played with 'N Sync. But he could have just as easily been drinking to the notion that it's a good time to be Justin Timberlake. He validated his world-straddling status in a hugely entertaining show that had everything except a hair-pulling catfight between Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel. Singing "Chop Me Up" and "SexyBack," Timberlake took command of the jittery funk beats provided by Timbaland, wrenching drama out of every pause and stutter-step. (Timbaland was present for vocal support and a midshow DJ set.)
Timbaland's tracks on FutureSex/LoveSounds teeter on the edge of inventive and just plain quirky – but tonight, fleshed out with a crack band and amplified for a large room, the music was commanding, as if the funk of the future had finally arrived. Frequently, JT joined in on organ: He's not a virtuoso, but he makes up for it with a good sense of rhythm. There might have been a couple too many slow songs, but when it came time for his most famous ballad, "Cry Me a River," Timberlake turned the song into a heavy-metal stomp, emphasizing that he was so over her. He even provided comedy by bringing Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg onstage for an encore of their YouTube hit "Dick in a Box."
Most of all, Timberlake danced, reminding the audience what his music is built for. He gracefully led nine backup dancers through elaborate choreography halfway between West Side Story and Beat Street; and even when the troupe dispersed like party guests in search of guacamole, Timberlake commanded the crowd's attention just by striding around the stage that was unquestionably his.
This story is from the March 8th, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.
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