On Friday night, The Spin got our asses kicked by The 20/20 Experience — an exhausting three-hour display of herculean endurance courtesy of Memphis-born former Mouseketeer and current Super Famous Person Justin Timberlake. Behind lesser performers, the overwhelmingly high-tech production might have stolen the show. In fact, it came close a time or two. But JT held his own, singing and dancing his fancy little shoes off before an elated crowd at the sold-out Bridgestone Arena. And we didn't even have to hear any 'N Sync songs! Not that most of the attendees would have minded.
Sold out months in advance, Timberlake's Nashville appearance was just about the hottest ticket in town since Beyoncé hit Bridgestone on July 13, with Craigslisters and street scalpers alike hawking tickets at a few hundred bucks apiece right up until show time. It was also just about the hippest big-ticket crowd we've seen since Queen Bey, made up of girls in tights and boots alongside sockless young men in loafers and blazers and paisley ties (a look that doesn't really work on non-millionaire non-pop-stars). Though there were certainly far more men in attendance Friday night than there were at Beyoncé, there were still plenty of giddy youngsters squealing in the merch line and hot moms teetering atop stilettos in the beer line.
Likely because of JT's complicated, interlocking, honeycomb-style set design, opener The Weeknd (that's the stage name of Abel Tesfaye) set up across the arena floor, facing the main stage. The Weeknd makes outsized, affected "PBR&B" — the recently coined term used to describe the hipster-friendly R&B of dudes like Tesfaye and Frank Ocean — that isn't out of place in an arena, with the melismatic frontman sporting a vocal range like a much hipper Geddy Lee.
Half an hour later, after a countdown, Timberlake appeared center stage sporting a white tuxedo jacket and, as our photographer would later put it, a "leetle beard." With its hexagonal panels opening and closing to reveal strobing spotlights, Timberlake's massive multimedia wall reminded us ever so slightly of the production Roger Waters shared with us when he brought The Wall Live Tour to Bridgestone back in 2012. (Hear us out!) Both big white backgrounds featured projected images and panels that came and went. JT's production obviously lacked the sociopolitical commentary of Waters', but he made up for it with pretty dancing girls. Timberlake's backing band, the 15-piece Tennessee Kids, rose from within the stage during "Pusher Love Girl" while the singer did his best Sam Cooke impression alongside a chrome mic stand.
Vocally, of course, Timberlake is no Cooke — not that he's ever claimed to be. Nevertheless, he sang well, showcasing that lithe falsetto of his and not relying too heavily on his backup singers. It was his grueling choreography that impressed us most of all, however, as he slipped seamlessly in and out of routines with his half-dozen coed backup dancers, who were decked out in matching tux jackets and black-and-white loafers. He breezed through songs like "Rock Your Body," "FutureSex/LoveSound" and "TKO," assuring us, "Nash Vegas," that we were just getting warmed up. It was during The 20/20 Experience's ultra-saccharine-by-design "Strawberry Bubblegum" that we finally took a bathroom break, where we overheard a dude noting that it was indeed "a good song to take a piss break to."
Timberlake finally came up for air, bringing up the house lights and noting that "I think I know half of y'all." He efficiently hit about nine talking points: Hey, remember how he's had multiple SNL appearances? How about a shoutout to Puckett's in nearby Leipers Fork, where he'd apparently dined on Thursday? Then he noted that he "tried to tell them Tennessee was out of their fucking mind." (We assume by "them" he meant all of his 20/20 tour employees aside from the band, as the Tennessee Kids presumably know how Tennessee is. Or maybe not.) Then it was "Lovestoned," JT plinking at a white baby grand piano for "Until the End of Time," a brief snippet of "Holy Grail" and — what, for our money, is his finest song — "Cry Me a River," followed mercifully by a 10-minute intermission.
We returned to a bevy of lasers and multiple Timberlakes dancing in unison onscreen. The real JT — now clad in a dark blazer and tennis shoes — noted that he's 32 and can take a 10-minute breather if he wants to, fuck you very much. Around the time of "Tunnel Vision" (during which some topless women danced onscreen, so take that, Disney) we realized that Timberlake's favorite recurring theme seems to be comparing love and sexual attraction to various forms of intoxication. Hey, why not. It's just pop music. But we certainly weren't prepared for what would come next. During "Let the Groove In," a catwalk-like platform running the width of the stage rose about 30 or 40 feet into the air. Via a giant set of what looked to be pneumatic lifts, the platform glided over the heads of those on the floor and toward the back of the arena, all with Timberlake, his dancers and his backup singers dancing across its transparent surface as if to laugh in the face of God. JT delivered most of the rest of the show from atop the platform at the back of the arena, toasting Tennessee — the "greatest state" in the union — and breaking out a guitar for an exceptionally cheesy cover of "Heartbreak Hotel."
Then it was the homestretch, with the platform crawling back toward the stage and covers of MJ's "Human Nature" and Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison." It was during the closing trifecta of "Suit and Tie," "SexyBack" and "Mirrors" that The Spin finally submitted, beaten into submission by Timberlake's unrelenting stamina, leaving our seats near the floor for a perch at the back of the arena beside an exit. It wasn't exactly a fair fight — just the fact that we had to be on our feet for three hours was nearly enough to send us for a cry and a nap. Meanwhile, this boy-band, triple-threat motherfucker danced and crooned and charmed his way into midair and back again like it was nothing. You win, Timberlake, you handsome son of a bitch.
Charli's an Angel
There was a clear "out on a school night" vibe at Mercy Lounge on Monday for the Kitten/Charli XCX gig: lots of X's on hands, a handful of obvious chaperones, a tiny bottle of Jack Daniel's sneaked in and quickly consumed in the bathroom. Raw youth was on full display. We were worried upon arrival that the club was going to be dead empty, because there was plenty of parking outside, but we guess everyone carpooled or cabbed it over.
Opener Kitten went over extremely well with the slow-growing crowd. The L.A.-based group vacillated between a dark late-'80s synth-pop vibe and a Deftones-ish melodic heaviness. Lead singer Chloe Chaidez, a petite young woman with the thickest head of hair we've ever seen, thrashed around the stage almost carelessly, even bumping her head on the speakers at one point. Head-banging is in, and the kids loved it.
At certain points, Chaidez's hair flipped completely over her face, and it looked for all the world like Cousin Itt was the frontman. But that wasn't the weirdest thing: The weirdest thing was a "Purple Rain" cover that we struggled to identify as such until Chaidez literally started singing "purple rain." There was also a fake-out of Alphaville's "Forever Young" (we really wanted to hear it!), but it segued into a very hard-rocking Yeah Yeah Yeahs-esque jam. The crowd fucking loved Kitten, lining up to meet them at the merch table. We didn't realize how long it had been since we've actually seen a band interact with fans immediately after their set; good hustle, kids.
Headliner Charli XCX's band was all girls, and we mean that literally: Not a one of them looked over 21 years old. They were dressed in schoolgirl uniforms but danced like they were more in tune with Robert Palmer than Britney Spears. It's always a deliberate decision for a singer to have an all-female band, especially one that's in the peer group of the performer herself. Though maybe not 100 percent on board with the band's novelty styling, we are always on board with seeing more women onstage.
It was right around 10:30 when Charli's set started, and she shot through some songs from her recently released debut album: the ballad-ish "Stay Away," the cheeky "You (Ha Ha Ha)" and super-duper crowd favorite "Black Roses," a song on which she effectively implemented heavy metal thrashing, which was the theme for the night. Every time Charli stepped back from her blue LED mic stand (that looked like a long fluorescent tube) to dance and slam around, the girls in the audience went wild.
The one-two punch of "I Love It" (the hit song she wrote and guested on for Icona Pop) and new single and actual best song "SuperLove" seriously amped up the crowd, a crowd that had much more men in it than we expected. One of them handed her a scepter. "This song is about getting high," Charli said of "Take My Hand," and we realized that all of her songs sound better at night than in the daytime (last time we saw her was at Bonnaroo in the brutal light of day).
Kitten's Chaidez joined Charli onstage for a relatively faithful cover of Bow Wow Wow's version of "I Want Candy," and soon after, the show was over — houselights on by 11:30. It had only been about an hour, but she pretty much ran through her whole catalog during that time. It was probably a good thing that it was such an early night, though; most of the crowd had school tomorrow.