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Justin Timberlake brings back the glory of entertainment

Justin Timberlake performs on Wednesday, July 30, at the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City.
Justin Timberlake performs on Wednesday, July 30, at the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City. The Kansas City Star

For his inaugural solo show in Kansas City, Justin Timberlake brought an ensemble he called the Tennessee Kids. There was nothing child-like about them.

A collection of singers, dancers and musicians that included a four-piece horn section and a quartet of backup singers, they added an exhilarating combination of brassy soul and heft to a show that lasted two and a half hours, including a swift 10-minute intermission, and that solidified the reputation of an entertainer, now 33, whose stardom goes back more than two decades and the heyday boy-band era when recording artists could sell millions of compact discs in one week.

Those days are gone, but Timberlake has survived them.

At the Sprint Center on Wednesday night, he gave a crowd of more than 15,000 an extravagant and electrifying display of music, choreography and musicianship. It was the first of two nearly sold-out Sprint Center shows in two days. Thursday’s crowd is in for a treat.

The show opened with an overture from his band, cast in silhouette on an enormous mosaic-tile screen at the back of the stage. As Timberlake emerged from the shadows on stage, the band emerged from beneath the stage and lead his mates into “Pusher Love,” a track from the first of two albums that gave this “20/20 Experience” tour its name.

Dressed in casual/formal wear (running shoes and a dinner jacket), Timberlake set the mood immediately. This would be a night of both physical and emotional expression, as in plenty of dancing and singing-along.

His music comes from a bounty of genres and styles. Though it heavily favors modern soul and R&B, it also taps into New-Jack swing, pop, rock and hip-hop from several eras. It all adds up to a show rooted in dance grooves, which kept the large crowd on its feet, and out of its seats, all night.

Timberlake isn’t the greatest singer, dancer or musician, but he can do all three at a high enough level to keep an arena-sized crowd in his thrall. “Rock Your Body” was an early highlight. So was “Future Sex/Love Sound.” His lyrics are typically libidinous but family-friendly: romance in the key of braggadocio but suitable for adolescents.

There were plenty of visual treats, none more spectacular than the mobile runway, which spanned the width of the arena floor and rolled from the edge of the stage to the back of the arena. For several songs, Timberlake was joined by a few dancers and two members of the horn section. Despite no railings or any other visible means of preventing anyone from spilling off the runway onto the floor 20 feet below, they all danced up and down the runway.

The setlist included two covers: of “Heartbreak Hotel,” as a tribute to Elvis Presley and Timberlake’s hometown of Memphis; and “Human Nature,” as a tribute to his idol, Michael Jackson. But the best covers were of Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” mashed into his own “Take Back the Night,” and then Bel Biv Devoe’s “Poison.”

He closed with a flourish: First “Suit and Tie,” which ignited more dancing in the seats, then “SexyBack,” his signature and biggest hit outside of ‘N Sync, the boy band that made him famous. But the finale generated the loudest sing-along and ovation of the night: “Mirrors,” an inspirational anthem written (and performed) to rattle an arena roof.

The crowd that sang along with Timberlake at that point was as big as it was when he and his Tennessee Kids started the show.

This was one of those events: Everyone stuck around for the last drop.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.


Pusher Love Girl; Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want); Rock Your Body; Future Sex/Love Sound; Like I Love You; My Love; TKO; Summer Love; LoveStoned; Until the End of Time; Holy Grail; Cry Me River; intermission; Only When I Walk Away; Drink You Away; Tunnel Vision; Seniorita; Let the Groove Get In; Heartbreak Hotel; Not a Ba Thing; Human Nature; What Goes Around; Take Back the Night; Jungle Boogie; Murder; Poison; Suit and Tie. Encore: SexyBack; Mirrors.

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