Janet Jackson Is Still Nasty After All These Years
Madison Square Garden in New York was a party on Monday night. That’s because Janet Jackson had taken over the arena for the first of two shows on her Together Again Tour. As the audience waited for the show to begin, the DJ got the energy up as he pumped kickback classics like Faith Evans’ “Love Like This” and, of course, some Jackson 5.
Ludacris opened, serving as a surprisingly fitting special guest. The conceit of his set was not knowing if the crowd was really full of “day-one Luda fans,” which is a hard thing for any millennial (or older member of the crowd) to not be. He ran through a verse or two of his biggest hits and guest spots — “Act a Fool,’ “Area Codes,” Fergie’s “Glamorous,” Lil Jon’s “Lovers & Friends” — pulling out his oversize sneakers for “Stand Up” and his fake big arms for “Get Back.” The crowd went especially wild for his iconic “Yeah!” verse and closer “Move Bitch.”
As Jackson’s set was about to begin, giant screens flashed a montage of her career, from child stardom to the present — “50 years … of me” as the screen said. Jackson soon emerged onto a raised, circular platform in the middle of the main stage wearing a large purple cape. She kicked things off with “Damita Jo,” a powerful and unexpected statement — a track where Jackson notes she’s “too deep to define,” off an album that was more or less blacklisted due to the backlash she received from the infamous Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction.
The concert’s first act was a surprising run of material, including the first of three versions of “Together Again” she would perform throughout the night. The song is the tour’s namesake and helps mark the 25th anniversary of The Velvet Rope; it’s also a powerful single about unity, inspired by her suddenly losing a friend from complications due to AIDS. Its many remixes and iterations served as a great through line for the show.
After “Together Again,” Jackson launched into a pair of songs from 2008’s Discipline, including the dance hit “Feedback,” before jumping between her past and more recent material, like 2015’s “No Sleeep,” followed by 1997’s Joni Mitchell-sampling “Got ’Til It’s Gone.”
The transition between “acts” showed the biggest glaring issue of the night: As she and her quartet of male dancers went backstage to change, the audience was left to stare for several minutes at pretty boring screen visuals (or nothing at all) while the music continued. It slowed the show down significantly, mellowing the high of getting to see Jackson live, in the flesh.
Act II got the energy back up, as Jackson blazed through Eighties hits like “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” “Nasty,” and “The Pleasure Principle.” She still dances with the type of effortless, sweat-free ease that’s made her such a standout in all eras of her career. Some audience members saw their muscle memory activate as they themselves imitated the video choreography that was inescapable on MTV so many decades ago.
For the second “Together Again” of the evening, the band moved forward on the stage as Jackson launched into some of her most iconic ballads and slow jams, like “Let’s Wait Awhile” and “Any Time, Any Place.” For “Again,” the sentimental ballad that closed out Poetic Justice, she looked visibly emotional and proud as the audience sang most of it back to her. Her dancers returned for “I Get Lonely,” this time shirtless and ready to receive a saucy, handsy dance from Jackson. (It was a much more sanitized scene than her “Would You Mind” dance from past tours, when she would strap an audience member to a gurney-like structure and climb on top of them.)
The next act focused on the dance music, with “All for You” stealing the show. She told the audience that there were some songs she had never done on tour before that she wanted to try out on this one before launching into her Blackstreet collaboration “Girlfriend/Boyfriend.” She followed with a few songs from 2006’s 20 Y.O., an album she ended up not touring in lieu of working on 2008’s Discipline instead.
For Jackson’s final act, she returned to the stage in a “Rhythm Nation” shirt before running through several songs from the classic 1989 album. The only divergence was for “Scream,” her hit 1995 duet with late brother Michael, though she brought it back to Rhythm Nation by mashing it up with a bit of “Black Cat.”
The encore began from backstage, as the camera caught Jackson singing while getting makeup touchups, then followed her back to the stage. Appropriately, the final song was another “Together Again,” this time the originally released version of the track. Jackson and her dancers joyfully ran around the stage, the most she let her diva-focused facade crack all night. They were even joined by four new dancers, two of whom won the opportunity to be onstage with her on an earlier episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. It was the end of a ruthlessly packed greatest-hits set, that even with the nearly 40 songs she ran through still left room for wanting more. Luckily, it doesn’t seem like Ms. Jackson is letting up anytime soon.