Vegas-style glam trumped musical substance Thursday night when Janet Jackson kicked off her Velvet Rope World Tour with a hellzapoppin' spectacle that featured enough over-the-top special effects to make Armageddon look like Driving Miss Daisy.
Pacing the big event at breakneck speed, the tireless Jackson crammed twenty-six hits, twenty-plus dance numbers, nine costume changes, four (almost laughably) elaborate sets, constant pyrotechnics and approximately 300 "I love you, D.C.!"'s into two-and-a-half hours of sheer summer-entertainment bliss. Her voice and footwork may suffer when compared to older brother Michael's, but the King of Pop has a legitimate family challenger when it comes to pure showmanship.
By blending equal parts A Clockwork Orange, Mummenschantz, Lewis Carroll, and Solid Gold -- yes, as damn freaky as it sounds -- the thirty-two-year-old Jackson framed the concert as a lust-driven fairy tale, complete with a giant storybook, containing a massive video screen, that opened and closed the show. As far as a consistent color scheme went, well, just imagine a well-lighted explosion at the Crayola factory.
After literally erupting onto the stage, Jackson, backed by eight male and female dancers, humped and bumped her way through "Velvet Rope" (an actual red and gold velvet rope dangled like an anaconda over the stage for most of the night), "If," and "You." Giving crew and crowd an early breather, Jackson then took to a center stage stool and, accompanied by a strictly ornamental acoustic guitarist -- even Janet tries to go "unplugged" these days -- warbled through keyboard-fueled takes of "Let's Wait Awhile" and "Again."
After a frenzied medley of "Control," "Pleasure Principle," "What Have You Done for Me Lately?," "Nasty," and "Throb" -- her band is late-night talk show, at best -- a red crushed-velvet curtain closed the stage, and a hidden light-and-sound show of Close Encounters proportions -- a clever way to entertain during set changes -- hinted to the deranged madness to come. When the stage was revealed, Jackson, in a jester's headdress and satin bustier, and her dancers, dressed as flowers, Mad Hatters, and horny gnomes, bounded across a blindingly bright, poppy-induced set design of inflatable moons, clocks, vases, and books, and worked through a much-too-happy medley of "Escapade," "When I Think of You," "Miss You Much," "Runaway" and "Love Will Never Do Without You."
After that hallucinatory moment, it was a comfort when Jackson, changing the set yet again, this time into a steamy burlesque house, raunched things up -- after all, we are talking about velvet ropes here -- with a steamy succession of "Alright," "I Get Lonely," "Black Cat," and "Rhythm Nation." For "Rope Burn," Jackson stripped down to a black bra and tight pants, ordered up a man from the crowd (pointing and demanding, "You!") and proceeded to wriggle and purr up in the lucky guy's lap while two of her
near-naked dancers pole-danced behind. (Can this really be little Penny from Good Times? Man, Jimmie Walker must feel so dirty.)
Former Gen. Colin Powell, with whom Jackson has formed the America's Promise charity for at-risk children, introduced the performer for the lengthy encore -- classed up with chandeliers and sensible clothing -- which included "That's the Way Love Goes," "Got 'Til It's Gone," "Go Deep" and "Together Again." All in all, Janet's still as nasty as she wants to be.