Justin Timberlake is the most well-rounded talent of his generation — singer, dancer, actor (comedic and dramatic) and entertainer. He could be a permanent cast member of “Saturday Night Live” if he had the time. He could entertain at the Super Bowl halftime show if he hadn’t had a wardrobe malfunction. He could be in the Coen brothers’ stable of actors if he wanted to. But right now he is concentrating on music.
On tour for the first time in seven years, Timberlake, 33, brought his talents back to Xcel Energy Center on Sunday night. His many skills were in abundance — the singing, dancing, instrumental chops and showmanship. But everybody needs an editor (or director or producer). His 2 ½-hour marathon seemed to last as long as a dramatic reading of all 10,000 lakes in the state of Minnesota (there is a Timber Lake in Jackson County). There’s no way JT’s elaborate and ambitious presentation would rank in the same league as recent shows by Pink and Bruno Mars.
The opening hourlong set suffered from sameness — same tempos, musical dynamics (he came across as the Michael Buble of hip-hop soul), dance moves (as much Fred Astaire as Michael Jackson) and look (the white tux jacket with black bow tie, shirt and pants, with dancers always flanking Timberlake). The visionary behind this first act must have been the same person who produced Timberlake’s blockbuster “20/20 Experience” album with songs stretching beyond seven minutes (he gave us the dance mixes from the get-go — before anyone wanted them).
The only exciting point in the first segment was after Timberlake introduced guitarist Mike Scott from Minneapolis; the singer broke into a series of one liners from Prince songs, including “Controversy,” “Purple Rain” and “Kiss” and the band tried to get JT to go further. Nah, he only takes chances on stuff he’s rehearsed (see his wonderful bits with Jimmy Fallon).
However, the second, longer set was just about everything the first one wasn’t. Timberlake showed more variety in the first two numbers — the banging “Only When I Walk Away” and “Drink You Away,” a hard blues with horns and vocal harmonies — than he had in the entire first hour. For 80 minutes, Timberlake mostly cut loose, getting funky and having fun. The textures and tempos were varied —and so were the settings.
There was finally the wow moment that 16,000 fans were waiting for — JT and four backup singers soared above the crowd on a hydraulically lifted platform that then traveled over the main floor as they sang “Let the Groove Get In,” Timberlake’s grooviest dance tune in an evening overloaded with groove tunes.
Eventually the platform landed at the back of the arena where JT crooned the smooth-as-Smokey Robinson love song “That Girl” and unimaginative covers of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and Jackson’s “Human Nature.” Songs by Kool & the Gang and Bell Biv Devoe kept the party jumping as Timberlake returned to the main stage for two of his biggest hits, “Suit & Tie” and the signature “SexyBack,” which reminded everyone how hot JT can get.
Because for too long Sunday he came across as a Justin of all talents but a master of only one — charisma.