Justin Timberlake is bringing busy back.
Remember his halftime show at the Super Bowl in February? He crammed 10 songs into a hyperkinetic 13 minutes in an ambitious, dizzying production with a cast of hundreds. He traversed ramps, runways, stairways, stages and the field itself, finally romping up an aisle in U.S. Bank Stadium.
Timberlake, 37, returned to the Twin Cities on Friday with another super-ambitious production at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. With a cast of 11 musicians, four singers and six dancers, he delivered more than two dozen songs in two hours that seemed both super-busy and overlong.
Super busy because Timberlake and his dancers — and musicians — were all over the arena, parading along a long trail through the woods. After all, this was the Man of the Woods Tour, complete with faux trees, fake grass and a gas campfire. Perhaps in an attempt to replicate the nonstop movements of his Super Bowl show or maybe just in trying to reach out to all 17,000 people in the arena, JT had three separate stages — a main stage, one in the middle and a large satellite one at the far end of the arena. The sprawling trail connected them.
What might have made the show seem overlong was Timberlake’s propensity to elongate tunes that didn’t demand it and his insistence on playing many — too many for some people — songs from his new solo album, “Man of the Woods,” the slowest-selling project in his 16-year solo career since his boy band, N’ Sync, went on hiatus.
Not only are the “Woods” songs largely unfamiliar, but some are lackluster, such as “Montana” (which sounded like a failed marriage of Michael Jackson and the Bee Gees), “Man of the Woods” (a country-soul stroll that went nowhere) and “Supplies” (a turgid, dense funk that prompted fans to stop dancing).
Occasionally Timberlake stepped out of the wilderness, such as for “Rock Your Body,” one of his early solo hits, staged on a colorfully lit disco floor. Good luck finding one of those in a state park.
Although that fun workout was an outlier from the woodsy theme, the notion made sense. Because this show was essentially about Timberlake the dancer. He was a dancing fool, lockin’ and poppin’ like Michael Jackson, doing smooth steps like Fred Astaire and executing athletic ensemble moves like a boy-band. Even on the closing euphoric “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” he did a perfect impression of a clumsy, rhythm-impaired dude dancing with heart, soul and passion. Yet all this crowd-pleasing dancing may have come at the expense of his singing. On most of his major hits, including “SexyBack” and “Mirrors,” he let his excellent backup singers — and the fans — carry the choruses. Nevertheless, it was obvious that this well-rounded superstar can sing and dance at the same time.
There were some stand-out vocal turns, including the big dramatic ballad “Cry Me a River” with his knockout falsetto, and the acoustic gospel-soul “Drink You Away,” which was preceded by shots of booze for Timberlake and his Tennessee Kids ensemble, which included Minneapolis guitarist Mike Scott. With those drinks, Timberlake toasted “the greatest musician of all time. You may have seen me [at the Super Bowl] tributing my idol. One time for the Purple One. He’s royalty.”
During his show, Timberlake ad-libbed a line from Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” as well as the chorus from “I Would Die 4 U,” the Purple piece he played at the Super Bowl. However, this show was much more satisfying than that too-busy mess.