Janet Jackson Live: Tears, Bondage And Tupac

By | July 11, 2001 at 12:00 AM

“Come back to me,” the tiny figure onstage pleaded, her arms outstretched. Janet, they never left. At least that’s how it sounded as her attempt at that 1989 weeper was drowned out by two full minutes of a standing ovation – and that was three songs into the set. Pop Lolitas-of-the-week may come and go, but this Jackson, it seems, is forever, if Saturday night’s All for You tour kickoff was any indication.

Following a sparsely attended set from opening R&B quartet 112 and a good 40 minutes of pre-recorded Motown hits, the arena lights went down and the screaming commenced. Images of the artist in her many incarnations flashed on a giant scrim suspended above the stage, peaking with a naughty 25-foot-high naked-but-for-go-go-boots Janet, when the curtain was lifted to reveal the life-size version perched atop a towering platform barely wide enough to hold her. Decked out in a creamy rhinestone cowgirl outfit that recalled the recent look of another well-known diva, the singer and her equally elevated dance troupe began thrusting madly to the buoyant “Come On Get Up,” an invitation that proved unnecessary for an audience already on its feet. As the platforms lowered, Janet and her rhythm nation segued crisply into two other numbers from current album All for You, including the title track.

Soon, the all-white backdrop was lowered to reveal a full band, which allowed for the first costume change of the night. The dancers swiftly returned for a sort of “Night of the Living Kabukis” routine, decked out in terrifying, vaguely Asian masks and robes. Jackson emerged from amongst them in Mad Max-ish black scales, before departing again and returning minus the outfit’s more reptilian aspects for the ballad medley. The singer was greeted by the kind of ovation usually reserved for World Series triumphs or returning war heroes, not slow-jam pop songs. To this crowd though, Janet was certainly royalty, and her arrival in the city could not have appeared more triumphant. “I love you, Portland,” she quaked, hand over heart, “I really missed you guys. Thank you so much!” That was not, in fact, a cue for “Miss You Much,” but a lead-in to “Come Back to Me,” the ode to abstinence “Let’s Wait Awhile” and a wrenching “Again,” which was accompanied by video images of the late Tupac Shakur with Janet in the 1993 flick “Poetic Justice.”

After an obligatory moment of silence, the stage was once again transformed, this time to a giant-scale FAO Schwarz-style wonderland, complete with inflatable jack-in-the-boxes and whimsical, toy-like outfits for the dancers. Janet herself appeared center stage as a sexy sugarplum elf for abbreviated run-throughs of “Runaway,” “Miss You Much,” “When I Think of You” and “Escapade.” A feisty reading on “Son of a Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You)” from All for You and The Velvet Rope’s “Got ‘Til It’s Gone” both got the sampled vocal treatments of their legendary ladies of song – Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell, respectively – though only Simon showed up for a special video guest star appearance. Following the sultry, slow-burning “That’s the Way Love Goes,” it was time for a little vintage discovering-her-feminine-power Janet, with “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” “Control” and “Nasty” back to back, drawing the most enthusiastic audience participation of the night. The shiny zoot-suit redux of “Alright” led to an extended instrumental dance breakdown, highlighting the show’s already prominent choreography.

Then, apparently, it was time for things that go bump and grind in the night, as Jackson returned in a poured-on black latex catsuit for a nearly NC-17 acting out of All for You’s already-pornographic “Would You Mind.” One young audience member was pulled onstage to be tied up and serenaded by the transformed temptress, who crooned deeply, “I just want to kiss you, suck you, taste you, ride you” as she climbed him and thrust over his prone figure down below the stage lights in a puff of well-placed smoke. Not quite family entertainment, but Jackson seemed determined to display her dirtier side before returning again in a relatively innocent geisha/Wonder Woman outfit for “If” and “Black Cat.” A fully PG Janet returned for an encore in demure white tee and jeans with “Doesn’t Really Matter” and full band and dancer intros, before closing out with her latest single, “Someone to Call My Lover,” and the promise of “Together Again.”