REVIEW: Janet Jackson at Verizon on Saturday

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When Janet Jackson appeared on Saturday night, she wowed the crowd by singing from the aisles at the Verizon Theater. Opening with “Pleasure Principle” in her best Catwoman-like attire and sassy short ‘do, she sang into her signature headset mike and the crowd was immediately on board. Come to find out, this would be the most interaction she’d have with the sold-out audience all night.

Jackson is a superstar and you cannot deny her big hits over the years (save for maybe the past five), but her robotic performance was a letdown, and as much as people screamed and applauded, this show should have been a whole lot more. Instead, Jackson nary performed a full song. The concert was broken into medleys and so she opened with “Principle,” and finished seven songs later without skipping a single beat. A. Single. Beat. We got ample snippets of big hits like “Miss You Much,” “Control” and “Feedback” to name a few, but this was the gimmick the whole night long and wore thin pretty fast. A ballad medley followed, some more dancey ones and even the encore was a megamix. She never gave us time to just soak in and appreciate her songs. If this was Janet back to form, then let the fans eat it up.

We had to endure snippets of her dramatic acting with clips from Good Times, Diff’rent Strokes, Poetic Justice and Why Did I Get Married before heading into her slow songs. I wasn’t really sure the point of this other than reminding us that she is an actress. Other breaks included jam sessions and photo slideshows of Janet through the years. Perhaps she wanted to take us down memory lane, but that’s what the songs were for.

Her strongest set was the three-song medley of  “Scream,” “If” and “Rhythm Nation.” I think that owed a lot to incorporating brother Michael into the show (even if it was just the “Scream” video), but the strength of the songs and sharper choreography from the videos all played out the right way. The crowd seemed in a more uproarious frenzy at this point and where she seemed to be lagging off her dancing a bit mid-show, she seemed to pick back up here. This part of the concert is what we should have been seeing all night.

The finale medley ended with the one complete song of the night. After three black bodysuits, she changed into a white one and finished off with “Together, Again.” The song was accompanied by images of her and Michael through the years which was rather sweet. Minus a few “I love yous” and kisses blown to the audience, she never engaged much with her fans. I think this made the show restrained and lacking in personality. She never let us in and on top of her falling into an automaton performance, all that we were really left with was a hell of a dance party. It’s hard to resist not dancing along with the diva, but even though this tour is touted as a scaled-back event, the Up Close and Personal part was hardly that.

—  Rich Lopez