Justin Timberlake took inspiration from his new single, “Suit and Tie,” when he performed his first show in almost five years Saturday night. He took the stage on Super Bowl weekend in New Orleans “all dressed up in black and white,” as the song says, down to his two-tone shoes. Backed by the Tennessee Men, a similarly dapper 15-piece band, Timberlake adopted a classic style down to the bowtie, cufflinks and part on the side of his slicked-back hair. He presided over the AXS TV/DirecTV Super Saturday Party with the ease and amusement of someone who seems entertained by the trappings of his own fame.
When he performed “Suit and Tie” late in the set, he was joined to little surprise by Jay-Z, who had been sighted in New Orleans earlier in the week. The good-natured vibe of the show extended to their chemistry, as Timberlake and Jay-Z grinned and goofed with each other, obviously enjoying their moment together.
“Suit and Tie” was the third song of the night from Timberlake’s upcoming album, The 20/20 Experience. Icy keyboard-generated strings introduced “Pusher Lover Girl,” which used drug and addiction language to explore a romantic relationship over a loping mid-tempo groove, while “That Girl” was a throwback to an easy, summertime cruising R&B jam with the chorus “I’m in love with that girl / don’t be mad at me.”
The set was geared to the party atmosphere, though, so it was shy on ballads and went easy on the unfamiliar. Shortly after 11 p.m., a red curtain rose to reveal his big band, complete with four backing vocalists and a four-piece horn section, and Timberlake rolled through such crowd pleasers as “Cry Me a River,” “FutureSex/LoveSound,” “Rock Your Body,” a dreamy “What Comes Around” and the closing “SexyBack,” with a guest appearance by Timbaland. He also covered INXS’s “I Need You Tonight” and the Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground),” bringing his backing vocalists to the front of the stage for some retro choreography that included a breakdown to “shovel the funk.”
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As he and the singers did a dance step that resembled digging a hole, the moment – like the show itself – presented Timberlake as somebody so comfortable with his art that he doesn’t have to take himself too seriously. His Saturday Night Live appearances certainly made that clear, and on Super Bowl weekend, he danced with a bouncy grace that was all his own, but he could also play it old school and be assured the audience was with him.
Timberlake didn’t forget the occasion for the party, though – something easy to do on a night when Stevie Wonder, Lil Wayne and Rascal Flatts were also playing parties in New Orleans. He asked who in the audience thought the Baltimore Ravens would win, and who thought the 49ers would win. He then asked the Niners fans, “How many of you are just following the bookies?”