Dammn Baby: Janet Jackson Roars Through the Magic City With ‘State of the World’ Tour

Posted December 15, 2017 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

Megapop legend merges postponed ‘Unbreakable’ world tour with Rhythm Nation vision

Photography: J Matthew Cobb / HiFi

janetjackson-sotw-box-01Of the 1980’s and ‘90’s, there probably wasn’t a single artist that pushed edgy R&B and dance further up the Hot 100 than Janet Jackson. Others came along and helped in the revolution: Whitney Houston, then TLC, even Usher and OutKast, but Jackson spearheaded the movement. Without a doubt, she stood as a once-in-a-lifetime global pop ambassador.

And so when Jackson, 51, exited the BJCC Legacy Arena stage for a quick intermission of her State of the World tour in Birmingham, her DJ reminded the crowd of that prominence. “Give it up to the queen of pop,” he shouted. Immediately, the reaction in the room to that moniker proved to be mixed. For some, it may have appeared to be a bit boisterous, as if the late Michael Jackson, her brother, may have passed the baton down while shading the enormous Madonna. But the crowd nevertheless reacted positively to the outburst. And it’s really because in this huge space, now glowing with a sturdy stage design and razor-sharp LED lasers, sat thousands of adoring Janet fans both young and older. They came to see their idol, one returning to the touring life after an expedient divorce from Qatari billionaire Wissam Al Mana and pregnancy with baby boy Eissa. And the rebound on that stage looked effortless, as the seasoned performer executed her signature dance moves, hair swirls and head pops with rapid speed and agility. And making sure she came across as a champion was an impressive fleet of eight adept hip-hop dancers, overflowing with diverse backgrounds – black, white, straight, gay and a knockout representing Team Thickums (Allison Claire).

Rumors on how Jackson pulled off the dramatic 70-pound loss just in time for the revamped “Unbreakable” World Tour (now reshaped as State of the World) have been exaggerated on social media and in small circles with some feeling it was all achieved with the medical intervention of lipo. But Janet is used to the rigorous lifestyle of fiery onstage executions and visuals, so the return to the stage had to be bigger – if not, better than her last: 2011’s Number Ones, Up Close and Personal tour. She’s put in the work, and has decided to take on current matters and the political climate through music.

No political stump speech came from her mouth, but the video reel visuals and the evocating lyrics of “Knowledge” and “State of the World” at the opening of Act I were enough. Messages denouncing white supremacy, police brutality, racism, right-wing radicalism, even chilling reminders of the Neo-Nazi-led Charlottesville protests, were pulled in, giving more meaning to Jackson’s poignant messages from Rhythm Nation 1814. To be truthful, this was Rhythm Nation 2.0 on stage. Yeah, she pulled off wardrobe changes recalling the Velvet Rope era and the baggy garb featured in the ‘Together Again’ video, but it was abundantly clear that Rhythm Nation was this tour’s stronghold. The Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis-powered “Knowledge” and “State of the World,” RN deep cuts sounding ageless and rhythmically addictive to the ear, led the way into the exact same album interlude: “Get the point? Good. Let’s dance.” And you know what came next? The funky “Miss You Much.” Mostly everything off that monumental disc was executed, including “Miss You Much,” “Love Will Never Do,” the singalong “Escapade” and the bad-ass “Alright.” Snuck in between the rehash of RN were Control’s finer moments. “Nasty,” the sassy “Control,” “Pleasure Principle,” “What Have You Done for Me Lately” and the still-timeless “When I Think of You” were all airlifted with peppered live instrumentation, mostly led by Chic-inspired guitar chugging and extra percussion.

janetjackson-sotw-box-02And as if this was a “greatest hits” tour, Janet weaved in the crème de le crème of janet and The Velvet Rope. “If” (with a rock-heavy guitar solo) and the dance-off displayed during “Throb” were definite standouts of the evening. The warmhearted disco gem “Together Again” was just as rapturous as it squeezed in plenty video visuals of the audience on the side panels while getting a musical facelift thanks to added synth horns on the lopping chorus. And “That’s the Way Love Goes” was climaxed with a sexy mix of Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat,” paying homage to a versatile entertainer gone way too soon who was totally inspired by Janet’s talent. “I Get Lonely” is slowed down some, allowing the crowd to turn into a massive choir on the familiar chorus. A ballad segment strung together with “Twenty Foreplay,” “Where Are You Now” and “Come Back to Me” allowed her some free time to rest her derrière on a stool after the first half’s sweaty workout.

Unbreakable, Jackson’s last album, managed to get some earnest feedback from the crowd. They’re not as memorable to the public’s ear, but you could hear audience members responding to the pulse of the sexy throwback sound of “No Sleeep” and the Missy Elliott-supported “BURNITUP!” It is without question that these tracks sounded better than anything off of Damita Jo and Discipline and proves Jackson has more sand in her career’s hourglass.

There were a few glitches that managed to crawl out the gate. The tender ballad “Again” was cranked up by her road DJ and was supposed to turn into a singalong, but apparently, crowds just couldn’t hit those whispery high notes, with most of what was audible being reduced to subdued hums.

Then there was a non-Janet musical track that played that sounded like it was produced at a lower bit rate (double checked, the instrumental track Spooky Black’s “Idle” – found on YouTube – unfortunately sounds like that). Towards the end of the bit, she starts to speak but is sharply cut, dropping immediately into what became a powerhouse performance of “What About.” That solid performance offers a great deal of redemption, since she touches on domestic abuse and cleverly brings in her dancers to give off a contemporary dance worthy of SYTYCD attention. She closes the number with an emotional, transparent statement in regards to what transpired. “This is me,” she says.

It’s really hard to tell how much of this two-hour marathon was lip-synched. If this did happen for most of the journey, the original masters of the Jam & Lewis-pioneered rhythms or Jermaine Dupri’s work on “Get Excited” and the bouncy “Feedback” were buttered up with newly-minted pre-recorded vocal tracks with some touch-up ad-libs in the mix. But what we heard was classic Janet. She sounded pure, jubilant, and in good form. And yes, to mute the unbelievers, her mic was on all night. During the songs, she occasionally talked back to the crowd (“Are you ready, Birmingham?,” “Do you want more?…I don’t think y’all are ready?). Throughout the night, she gave us that infectious chuckle we all know by hard. At the end of the encore as Unbreakable’s emotional farewell “Well Traveled” blasted through the speakers with powerful guitar wails and a black-and-white montage aired in the center of the stage of the tour, she so sweetly departs the stage with a honest goodbye: “Birming-hum, I love you so much. Good night!”

The timing of this revamped tour seemed apropos. In Trump’s America, the bold messages of Rhythm Nation 1814 need to be heard again. And Jackson’s inclusion of “What About,” although centered on the subject of domestic violence, reminded us of the tectonic shift in our culture powered by the ‘Silence Breakers’ and #metoo movements. The wake-up calls against racism, bigotry, and social injustice sent a message to the gathered Alabamians, just days before a pivotal special Senate election that would determine if the state would rise from their troubling past on dangerously outdated POVs and reflect one that is progressive, affirming and global. And Janet was able to pull all this off superbly, as a strong hit-loaded ringmaster in total command of a big top spectacle worthy of a Vegas residency. But before she makes that move to Sin City’s Broadway, where Celine, Britney and others have pocketed thousands without the agony of constant travel, Janet has some more sand in her hourglass to tour the nations. Even as the last leg of “State of the World” gallops in its last lap, Janet is still exploring all avenues in this Rhythm Nation upgrade.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine

One Comment

    Juanita Stallworth

    Great story J and the pictures are fantastic!

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