Hov and J.T.’s integrated sets form an dynamic duo
TORONTO – If there is a better summer date concert, it takes place in an era long ago or a generation far away. For the titan-clashing team-up of arguably the greatest MC ever and a multitalented pop icon who returned to the stage after a six-year musical hiatus is made for him and her.
Even without hearing a single couplet, you know Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake’s month-long Legends of Summer tour, which will touch 12 cities in North America, is strategically brilliant. Both artists are peddling new albums, so it’s fitting that the night opens with Timberlake singing the hook for Jay’s “Holy Grail” and climaxes with Jay rhyming on Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie,” the champagne flute his only instrument.
As for what happens in between, well, it helps that J.T. can do a mean Pharrell. Although Jay-Z and J.T. each get solo mini sets, it’s their collaboration that makes Wednesday, in Mr. Carter’s words, “a special night.”
The consummate pro, Jay-Z strolls around in his gold chains and Nets strapback, effortlessly spinning gems; “On to the Next One” and the new “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit” sound better big and live. Not only does Jay have the support of an 11-piece band, but J.T. runs around the stage to help him out, singing Pharrell’s parts on “Frontin’ ” and “Give It to Me,” strumming guitar during “P.S.A.,” and playing the cop’s part in “99 Problems.”
Seeing a superstar so willing to be the setup man is refreshing. Of course, Timberlake gets his shine, too, winning with “What Goes Around” and “Senorita”; The 20/20 Experience’s “Mirrors” becomes a female singalong. The guys have hits.
If you want to nitpick, you can. “U Don’t Know” would pack more wallop had the DJ just let Just Blaze’s beat run; a band can’t do that track justice. Timberlake’s solo set begins to lose steam around “Take Back the Night,” the only time any fan could be spotted actually using the seat for which they paid handsomely. And entire swathes of Jigga’s back catalogue go ignored. American Gangster, In My Lifetime Vol. 1 and Reasonable Doubt (gasp!) don’t get any love. Even low-hanging fruit from 2011’s Watch The Throne—no “Niggas in Paris,” that was last tour—isn’t plucked.
Such omissions, however, are bound to happen when you have a dozen studio LPs and more hits than the show’s 160-minute running time will allow. The magic, as was the case in past Jay-Z co-headline blowouts (Mary J. Blige, Kanye West, Eminem) is in the hand-offs and assists.
In a building packed with 60 percent women (rough estimate), Jay’s lone slow jam, “Song Cry,” scorches then disintegrates into J.T.’s “Cry Me a River,” reminding us these happily married men wrote more interesting lyrics when there was a little dirt on their shoulders and smudges on the mirror. And Timberlake crooning Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” while bathed in a lone spotlight serves as the perfect hype-up for “Empire State of Mind”—a combo sure to score at Yankee Stadium later this week.
Yes, the party is as well calculated as it is executed, following a structure and hit list Jay-Z is comfortable with. Even within the cavernous dome of Rogers Centre, there is no space for improvisation, no illusion that the masters are making it up as they go along. It’s a business, man.
Still, Legends of the Summer favors elegance over excess. The lighting and splashes of video—in keeping with the aesthetic of Magna Carta and 20/20—complement the songs, but there are no fireworks or roll calls of dead MCs or gratuitous video interludes. There are too many smash songs to be heard.
So when J.T.’s “My Love” bleeds into Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’,” and everyone’s wearing shorts or skirts, and the home of a losing baseball team is suddenly batting a thousand, there is no excuse not to bounce. —Luke Fox
Photo Credit: Jonathan Lall