Ms. Janet Jackson Gets Nasty

Vancouver do-over worth the price of admission

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It is difficult to justify a $100 ticket to any show, but Janet Jackson may well have put together an event that gave people their money's worth: two action-packed hours on stage in front of an adoring -­ and forgiving -­ audience.

Indeed, Jackson had something to make up for; following a month of rehearsals in the very same Vancouver stadium, the singer's intended debut -­ scheduled for July 5th -- was axed twenty-four hours before kickoff, a result of a missing stage piece that didn't make it across the border. That not only changed the start date of the tour, but also the city (Portland caught the first peek, two days later). The move resulted in some bad PR when word got out that a host of Jackson devotees had booked their holidays around the intended debut. Fans from Florida to New York had to cash in their Canadian chips and head home, Janet-less. In the end, less than a hundred tickets were returned, while 15,000 fans arrived primped, pumped and queued up an hour before show time, just to be a part of the festivities.

Those lineups continued inside, where a mountain of merchandise (from $8 keychains to $65 jerseys) was grabbed by rabid fans. The especially hot ticket, a magazine/tour book copied in look from Jane Magazine was the most popular item, featuring everything from faux ads (including a center spread dubbed "Janet's Secret" with her modeling lingerie) to faux art (a Warholian four colour panel of Ms. J's face.)

When the lights dimmed, the evening's only tragedy occurred when 112 took the stage. For their mercifully short set, the four-piece R&B cliche (think Backstreet Boyz) put forth so much cheese that the lactose-intolerant types feared for their lives. Their entire set of love-you-down numbers was "highlighted" by Chippendale shirt ripping, repeated references to "sexxxy ladies in da house" and the ever-popular "throw your hands in their air." That said, the audience clapped politely, anticipating what was to come and it came with a vengeance.

It is hard to recall a more stark and arresting opening to a show: a white curtain -­ upon which flashed a series of Janet shots ­- was pulled down, and behind the sheet, thirty feet high atop one thin Romanesque column, stood Ms. Jackson. Describing her look -­ a firm stance in a cream-colored fringe outfit -­ does not do the moment justice. More immediate, more captivating, was her incredible presence. The mere visual of her looking like a boxer before a fight was something that itself created an incredible level of excitement and anticipation -- all without her making a sound.

The podium lowered, and she kicked off into "You Ain't Right" from her new disc All for You. That song went immediately into the new album's title track, and the stage once again transformed, opening up the back wall to reveal three twenty-five by ten foot video screens that remained lit the rest of the evening, broadcasting crisp close-ups so that even the "cheap seats" (if that's what you can call the $70 section) could see the sweat on Jackson's well-manicured brow.

Without question, one of the night's most beautiful and verklempt moments arrived out of nowhere forty-five minutes into the set, when Janet took front and center for a mellow medley of "Come Back to Me", "Let's Wait Awhile" and "Again." It was the first time that a break in the action occurred ­- no dancers, no music -- and as a close-up captured Jackson looking genuinely happy, the audience spontaneously burst into what became a five-minute standing ovation. Looking on, shocked by the sincerity of the moment, she shed sincere tears, simultaneously overwhelmed and overjoyed. "I love you so much, Vancouver. Thank you."

While medleys are often some of the weakest elements in an artist's performance -­ frequently jagged or clumsy in terms of their ability to merge cohesively -­ this seasoned performer gave generous chunks of time to each cut, gathering songs from different eras according to feel, making the transitions flawless. Take, for example, a joyful mini-set where Janet used every ounce of her well-sculpted body to run around the colorful stage, connecting with every corner of the crowd during abbreviated versions of "Runaway", "When I Think Of You", "Miss You Much" and "Escapade." The next mini-medley proved to be another crowd favorite; perhaps best dubbed as the "bitter" portion of the night, where Jackson's incredible presence again shone through, constantly working her way through more energized dance numbers, including one of the only re-worked songs of the set, a newly soulful and contemporary version of "What Have You Done for Me Lately", merged with "Control" and "Nasty." Indeed, this performer ­- who has been performing onstage for twenty-eight years -­ knows what the crowd comes for and gives it to them in spades.

All for You's sexiest track "Would You Mind" unequivocally became the performance that will be talked about for years to come. Jackson slithered onstage in a skin tight dominatrix outfit, four-inch heels and a laced-up PVC, singing lyrics like "I just wanna kiss you, suck you, taste you" while a cross-shaped bondage bed rose up out of the ground. As she has done both previous nights on the tour, Jackson selected a "victim" (hardly the right word in this situation) to be strapped down, stroked and straddled all while she sang the song without missing a beat. (A note for the skeptics: judging by the sweat, shaking and repeated "oh my god" screams, the audience member was not a plant.)

The remainder of the evening ran from joyful to even more jubilant; spirited versions of "If", "Doesn't Really Matter" and a stunning rendition of "Rhythm Nation" on which Jackson showed that even near the end of the two-hour show, her voice was unwaveringly powerful, carrying the "Sing it people/Sing it children" lines like a flag on the Fourth of July. Having just received an Icon award for her life's work, there is no question of Ms. Jackson's incredible talent. At the end of the concert, there was no question by any fan present as to the devotion to her craft; this high energy, soulful evening will be remembered by all not for it's exorbitant price, but as one of the best concerts in recent ­- or distant -­ memory.