Kevin Garnett returns to Target Center Monday night. Janet Jackson returned there Sunday night. Both have deep roots in Minneapolis from decades ago.
It remains to be seen how much KG has left but Janet, at age 49 and on her first arena tour in 14 years, showed she still has game in a fast-paced, hits-filled, dance-happy but less-than-satisfying performance.
Fans can probably count on KG for maximum effort and bunches of rebounds. And fans knew they could count on Janet to dance, which she did with style, aplomb and lots of assistance from her skillful backup dancers.
But just like KG’s outside shooting has been suspect, so, too, was Janet’s singing. It was difficult to tell if she was singing or lip-syncing during much of Sunday’s show (when she used a hand-held microphone, she was clearly singing, but she wore a headset microphone all night long). Not that lip-syncing ever has bothered Janet’s fans, about 10,000 of whom showed up Sunday.
But the biggest issues were the sense of pacing and the lack of spontaneity and, more importantly, personality.
The first half of Janet’s concert felt hopelessly rushed, like the concert equivalent of speed dating. She offered 14 songs — or abbreviations thereof — in the first 30 minutes. Call it teasing, catering to an ADD generation or just plain unsatisfying.
To be sure, the newly demure Janet, dressed in black from neck to toe (including MC Hammer-like pants), was working it, giving the kind of quick-changing cardio workout you might appreciate in the gym. However, in the second half, after an unnecessary 6-minute set by DJ Action (who was part of her five-man band), Janet found her groove — singing ballads.
“After You Fall,” from her brand-new and first album in seven years “Unbreakable,” was simple and gorgeous, just piano and voice (she was really singing). Next, she sat on a stool for a medley of oldies, including “Again” (on which she hit a high note with authority) and “Let’s Wait Awhile,” with its luscious slow-dance groove.
Her current single “No Sleeep” had an easy, irresistible lilt and an uplifting recorded rap from current star J. Cole before she seamlessly segued into “Got ’Til It’s Gone,” her 1995 slow-jam built around a Joni Mitchell sample.
But Janet wasn’t just about ballads; she came to party, as well. “Together Again” received two versions: a dense, minimalist remix and then the more familiar version on which Janet’s voice sounded much like that of her late brother, Michael. And she will rock with you, as she cut loose on “Black Cat,” the nasty guitar-driven rave-up; the explosive “Scream,” her duet with Michael, and “Rhythm Nation,” which featured exciting ensemble dancing.
While Janet didn’t give the hard sell to her new album (she did five new tunes but never mentioned the album) like Madonna and Taylor Swift are doing on their current tours, she confined her encore to new material. Accompanied by photos depicting war scenes and kids in need, “Shoulda Known Better” echoed with a U2-like surging chorus, and the closing “Unbreakable” oozed Motown, where her family got its start in the recording business.
Actually, “Unbreakable” turned into a giant family moment for Janet. After introducing her supporting cast, she broke from her usual script and declared, “It feels so good to be back home. From Day One, Minneapolis has been so kind.”
As if on cue, out came Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the Grammy-winning producers who helped launch Janet’s career here.
Right away, they showed how personality and spontaneity can light up a stage: Jam talked about how Janet came to Minneapolis 30 years ago to record with them and “the rest, they say, is history.”
Then Lewis escorted to the stage Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, who read a long proclamation declaring it Janet Jackson Day.
With her voice shaking and her eyes fighting back tears, Janet managed, “Thank you. I really am speechless. You’ve been so good to me from the beginning, so kind to me, so loving, so welcoming. Thank you for all your years of love and support for me and my entire family.”
Now it’s KG’s turn to bring family back to Target Center.