Justin Timberlake and Jay Z appear at Citizen Bank Park as part of their Legends of Summer tour in Philadelphia, August 13, 2013. ©Scott Weiner 2013
For a smidge under two and a half hours on a balmy Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park, Jay Z and Justin Timberlake’s grandly-staged, tag teamed “Legends of the Summer” show did exactly what I thought it might not pull off: enliven each man’s older hits for the sake of freshness and make the weaker songs from their newest albums mightier.
The largest part of the show’s success came down to two things, the first being its pacing. There was not a moment wasted, what with the liberal use of its side stages (JT popped up out of nowhere splashily singing a jazzy cover of Sinatra’s “New York, New York” before Jay Z took to a snazzy “Empire State of Mind”) and the trap door at stage center that allowed one man to disappear from view while the other appeared (as the shouts of “Hova” wafted in the breeze at the end of one song, up popped JT with the next) to start the next song.
The second thing that made the show a dazzler was teamwork — the genuine camaraderie felt between the Js — with each man insinuating himself into the other’s business. Even Z’s Watch the Throne shows with Kanye West didn’t have that aspect of male bonding/artist co-dependence. Each made the other’s songs better from the start, like when Timberlake crooned the hook to Jay-Z’s new “Holy Grail” track, Jay’s “uhuh-uhs through Justin’s bluesy “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” or the mini-metal-moment when JT strapped on an electric guitar and pushed Z’s “99 Problems” harder and higher with licks form Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” and a dedication (from Hova) to Phillies manager, Charlie Manuel, to boot.
A big part of their collaboration’s winning ways came down to Timberlake’s tight-ass band, the Tennessee Kids. This team — horns, singers and all — backed up both gents and followed each man’s lead so sympathetically and ever-so closely, they could have been house detectives. Shout out to one of the two drummers wearing that Mitchell & Ness tank top.
As far as their newest albums go, JT’s The 20/20 Experience and Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail have too many weak moments for my liking. Yet, in this staged presentation Timberlake’s Technicolor epic “Mirrors,” and Z’s sparse, style-soliloquy “Tom Ford,” took on greater force, the latter tune, in particular, suddenly sounded more about gluttony and greed (“Piss Bordeaux and Burgundies, flush out a Riesling… Spent all my Euros on tuxes and weird clothes … I party with weirdoes, yeah Hov, yeah Hov”) and less about luxury dry goods.
If we need to name a winner, it’s tough. Jay Z’s songs are more memorable than JT’s, hands down, especially and thankfully considering that Z’s hits such as “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” and “Jigga What, Jigga Who” were reconfigured and made minimal. Honestly, as much as I love Jay Z, if I had to hear that same hits set he’s been doing for the last several tours without fresh adornment, I’d scream. With Timberlake though, there’s that croon, pop’s sultriest white-boy soul sound wrapped around the jittery disco of “Rock Your Body,” a halting “What Goes Around… Comes Around,” a fun cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” and a grand, achy-break-y-but-powerful take on his own “Cry Me a River.” Even when a song wasn’t great (“Senorita”) that voice and his keyboard playing hammer down the nails every time.
They closed out the show with their sprightly grooving “Suit & Tie” duet — the first time the pair donned suits the entire night — and the lighters-up ballad “Young Forever” (not my favorite, but a crowd pleasing finale) with the crowd wanting more. Fans of Jay Z will probably get something of a chance at that when his Made in America 2, with Mrs. Carter Beyonce on board (Aug. 31-Sep. 1) while Timberlake aficionados will have to wait for Nov. 10 for 20/20 Experience Part 2 and his solo show to hit Wells Fargo Center, Nov. 10. (Tickets for that go on sale Aug. 23.)
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