AU ABROAD

Live Review: Justin Timberlake - Allphones Arena, Sydney (01.10.14)

Justin Timberlake's profile is such that he can cause mass hysteria in a crowd of 20,000+ just by snapping his fingers and showing us a little fancy footwork. The swagger this man possesses sets him apart in the pop world, his image forever boosted by the incredible transformation from corny boy band member to sultry R&B superstar he seamlessly went through all those years ago.

It comes as no surprise then that the first of his two-night occupancy of Sydney's Allphones Arena - 10 years after his first Australian tour - came with almost deafening crowd participation that hit every single time he would even sentence to the crowd - with the most common sentence being a hilarious Aussie-American accented "How ya goin'?".

Justin - known to his Aussie friends as "Juzzo" - was as polished as ever when he took to the elongated, movable stage before a capacity crowd, delivering a well balanced set list that spanned the best parts of his colossal career over consistently impressive arrangements pushed out by his incredibly talented backing band, The Tennessee Kids. In fact, The Tennessee kids were just as, if not more, impressive than Timberlake himself, uplifting the star of the night with complex, tight, and timely instrumentals that knew when to extend JT's classic cuts and give them new life, as well as knowing when to be precise. The symbiotic relationship between Justin and his band - that has undoubtedly come from the relentless touring schedule - has resulted in something that is impressively grand.

Rather than rely too much on a light-driven live show - as compared to his last tour - Justin focused on giving a tight and focused flurry of well choreographed dance sequences, his irresistible charm and a ground-breaking stage which literally moved up and down the arena - length ways. It's already been established that Justin is a born entertainer, and someone who can quite casually outdo even the most ostentatious of performers with a simple, elegant approach to style; what this was was a continuation of his undeniable prowess as a live force to be reckoned with. He may not have a voice powerful enough to blast throughout the large arena, but he has a perfect sense of what his strengths and weaknesses are, and he definitely plays the game cleverly here.

Opening the set with "Pusher Love Girl" was a good choice, while it is one of his more average performances it's a great introduction, because it gives the crowd a chance to get all the deafening screams out of the way before they really start to pay attention and they certainly do as soon as he launches into a snippet of "Gimme What I Don't Know (I Want)", before taking us all the way back to "Rock Your Body", by starting with the beatbox breakdown first and then working his way up to a stadium-sized interpretation that maintains that infectious rhythm but gives it a slightly edgier sound.

One of the show's highest points come fairly early on with a show-stopping arrangement of "My Love" extended out, so we see all shades of Justin, from the piano-driven ballad and his sweet falsetto to his energetic, dance-till-you-drop side. He even manages to get the entire crowd jumping up and down to the unforgettable Timbaland-produced beat by leaving it up to The Tennessee Kids and their penchant for flipping everything into unexpected territory. Hell, they even conjure up Black Sabbath in an amazing, subversive translation of "Cry Me a River".

The aforementioned focus that has been taken away from the intense lighting is concentrated onto just one part of the show, when the second half opens with "Only When I Walk Away". It's here where the show's artistic designers really get a chance to show just how proficient they are, giving us one of the most impressive laser shows I have seen at a concert and playing with cutting edge tech to really play on the spectacle of it all. By the time you manage to catch your breathe - and rub your eyes - Justin's back on stage giving us a soft performance of his well-written "Drink You Away" and then diving into electronica-dipped R&B with "Tunnel Vision".

In a blink-and-miss-it kind of deal, Justin's stage slowly starts to move not far into the second half, and before you know it, he is at the back of the arena above the VIP area strutting around and smiling as fans lose their minds. "What Goes Around...Comes Around" comes soon after, and Justin gives us the night's best performance. Similar to "My Love", the mega-hit is treated with a fresh new sound, arranged perfectly so that the slow-burning start become increasingly excited until you're left really feeling the power beneath the song's vengeful final section.

Extended disco funk comes with "Take Back The Night" along with his various, well executed covers of Michael Jackson and Bel Biv Devoe. However, it's his cover of Elvis Presley ("Heartbreak Hotel") that really gets the crowd going, appropriately stripped back and showing off Justin's powerless but smooth vocal work.

By the time Justin closes with the exciting trio of "Suit & Tie", "Sexyback" - which is turned into an all out stadium rock jam - and "Mirrors" the concert has already gone above and beyond what you'd expect, going as far as actually matching the value of the excessively expensive - and highly segmented - tickets. The power-pop hook of "Mirrors" - despite it being one of his weaker singles - is a perfect way to end the set, letting the man leave on a high note with tens of thousands of fans joyfully singing in unison.