A good bar band singer knows the importance of conversing with the patrons.
“Did you come to have fun?” Justin Timberlake asked after taking the House of Blues stage early Tuesday morning (June 17) for his first crack at what he’s dubbed the Show After the Show. “The point of this is to have fun.”
And fun it was, yet it certainly seemed there were other reasons for JT – as he was billed – to play a club show a few hours after the lights went up on the Justified and Stripped Tour at the Staples Center.
Mainly, the gig allowed Timberlake to completely shed his pop-star skin, as his six-song, 45-minute show included no preprogrammed tracks, rehearsed choreography or ostentatious stage props. Instead, the lucky fans who swiped up $35 tickets when the show was announced three days earlier saw the former boy-band pinup fronting a funk group, freestyling entire songs and playing guitar.
The show was so laid-back that one of Justin’s friends sat on the side of the stage the entire time, washing Jack Daniel’s swigs down with a can of Coke. It was so different from an ‘NSYNC performance that when Joey Fatone and Lance Bass bumrushed the mic to congratulate the singer, it took a few seconds to remember how they knew each other. Really.
Timberlake apparently came up with the idea for the Show After the Show, a series of club appearances along his arena tour itinerary, as a special treat to fans. However, judging by the smile on his baby face Tuesday, it was just as much a treat for himself.
The curtains opened around 1 a.m. with four backup singers and a five-piece band gradually building up a groove. Justin strolled on nonchalantly to music so funky it took his singing “You were my sun/ You were my earth” to recognize it was “Cry Me a River.”
Timberlake may be the hottest emerging R&B star, but this show was more a mix of neo-soul and rock, like a male Nikka Costa or Los Angeles’ own Maroon 5.
Wearing a Girls Gone Wild mesh cap and blue “Lite Beer” T-shirt, Justin took “Cry Me a River” to unexplored territory, prompting the band to jam through an extended bridge and then strip the music down for some a cappella harmonies. At one point he screamed, “Bitch, why do you cry to me?,” prompting massive applause.
“We’re all adults here,” Timberlake said later, assuming the late start time had weeded the kids out. He was only partially right, as the crowd still included an all-ages contingent.
Timberlake and his band next had a field day with the Neptunes’ Latin-flavored beat on “Senorita,” which the singer began with some impromptu scat.
“This is my lover’s anthem,” Justin said next, picking up a guitar to gently strum along to an extended version of the steamy ballad “Take It From Here.”
The song that followed began much the same way, with Timberlake repeating, “Fly the night away,” but the music suddenly stopped and he busted into the guitar opening of “Like I Love You,” which thanks to the band sounded like it could have been a rock radio hit.
When it came time for the Clipse’s guest rap, Justin told the band to “repeat the bridge,” which gave plenty of time for Fatone and Bass to stumble onstage for some dancing and, in Lance’s case, air guitar.
After accidentally knocking Bass’ beer out of his hand, Fatone grabbed the mic. “This boy is now a man,” Joey said to Justin. “You are my inspiration, man. No bullsh-.”
“Joey Fatone,” Timberlake answered to roars. “That’s a reason to make another ‘NSYNC album right there.
“Now get off the stage,” he joked.
Justin needed to clear the space for his next guest, Black Eyed Peas’ Will.I.Am, who freestyled to Timberlake’s beatboxing. The two said they had never rehearsed, which made the section where they slowed the jam to a crawl and then fired it up to a rapid pace even more impressive.
The band then took over his beatboxing so Justin could match Will’s rhymes with some freestyling of his own – dancing. While certainly inspired by Michael Jackson, the moves appeared to be made up as the song went on and included some unique robotic twists.
For the finale, Timberlake promised to “play my hit” before the band broke into “Rock Your Body.” Toward the middle, after singing “Said the air is thick, it’s smelling right,” he changed the line “So you blast to the left and you sail to the right” to “So you pass to the left and you pass to the right,” while motioning the passing of a joint.