Justin Timberlake was the toast of the town tonight in New York, and like any Southern gentleman would, he toasted back. “In the spirit of keeping it loose, New York — and because I like to drink — I’d like to share a toast.” The sold out crowd raised their plastic cups and bottles of beer. “So first of all, to the greatest city in the world,” said the 26 year-old, whose two nights of performances at Madison Square Garden for his FutureSex/LoveShow tour are being taped for an HBO special premiering on Labor Day at 9pm. “Kudos to HBO… They’re broadcasting live to the troops. Salute our troops!” Having already glided through “FutureSex/LoveSounds” and “My Love,” Justin’s suit jacket was off, his sleeves rolled up. “And last but not least, I just like to drink! Here’s to the Big Apple!” The crowd erupts, takes a collective swig, and Timberlake lets loose with the hit single “Senorita,” from his 2002 solo debut Justified.
“Do ‘Dick in a Box!'” a drunken frat boy-type accompanying his girlfriend calls out. But if he came for silly antics, the fan came to the wrong party — tonight was strictly grown and sexy. Timberlake has got one of the tours of the year (it runs through November) and whole lot of other stuff on his plate right now — his hot new single “LoveStoned,” a highly anticipated new duet with Madonna, the hip hop hit “Ayo Technology” with 50 Cent and Timbaland, his new label Tennman Records (a joint venture with Interscope) and a new restaurant opening in Manhattan. There’s also those seven VMA nominations and that relationship with film hottie Jessica Biel. But he never looks like he’s forcing it: he squints with his hand across his forehead as if searching for someone special in the audience, while thousands of girls scream, convinced that it’s them that he’s looking for. Timberlake slid through a string of hits both new and old without sounding the slightest bit winded, as effortless as a kid sliding around in his socks on a slippery floor. JT’s gestures — smoothing his Mohawk, grabbing his crotch, tipping his fedora, tossing and twirling his mi — work seamlessly with his music. He popped, locked, and lept across the stage, played the guitar, piano, and keytar, flexed his falsetto, and flipped his middle finger to a handheld camcorder during a rocking, rousing rendition of “What Goes Around Comes Around.” The audience held up their end of the deal, and the squealing never stopped.
After a 20 minute intermission set DJed by producer extraordinaire Timbaland, a dapper Justin returned in khaki slacks and vest, a white button-down and sneakers, a fedora, and a handkerchief tucked in his back pocket. He and his matching back-up dancers looked like a hip hop version of Newsies as they performed “Rock Your Body,” “Last Night,” “Damn Girl,” and “Summer Love” with choreography that was precise but loose. He dedicated the moving “Losing My Way” to “anybody who ever lost somebody they love” and beatboxed after an electrifying “Cry Me a River.” “If you’re freaky and you know it let me hear you make some noise!” Justin shouted as he opened the song of the moment, “LoveStoned” before sealing the deal with “SexyBack” amidst a lightning storm of laser lights. The screams were absolutely deafening when Timberlake returned for an encore. “I’m at a loss for words,” Justin said, sitting at the piano. “I’m so humbled by this moment. I can’t believe this is my job because this is so fucking cool!” Then he stood and clapped for the crowd, before belting out the ballad “All Over Again (Another Song),” and saying “I love you guys, thank you, that’s all I’ve got!” during his bow. Timberlake may be all grown and sexy now, but the boy still has manners.