OK, that's a lie. I'm irrational about many things... but the Chicago Bulls and Justin Timberlake sit atop the list. Shamelessly, I'm a fanboy of both subjects.
So naturally, with the latter coming into town this past Monday night alongside the "Mike Jordan of recordin'" for the Legends of the Summer Tour, I entered Soldier Field almost as hyped as I'd be attending a 7th Bulls’ championship rally at Grant Park.
No, the nearly 3 hour set could never equal the euphoria I'd expect to experience from another NBA title in Chicago, but the concert did deliver the type of end-to-end entertainment like Derrick Rose on a fast break. The energetic, non-stop playlist served as a detriment only to concertgoers who hoped to relieve their bladders or rest their legs between 9PM and midnight.
Outside Soldier Field before the show
With no opening act, Jay Z and JT kicked off the show by sharing the stage on "Holy Grail" - the lead track and collaborative effort from the rapper's most recent album. With Timberlake on vocals, the song's minute plus intro generated a type of sing-a-long suspense and excitement that culminated in a massive uproar when the Timbaland-produced beat dropped and Hova spat his first bar. The opening number paved the way for the sellout crowd of over 50,000 to enjoy hit after hit, sometimes masterfully intertwined, from both artists backed by a 14 piece band.
Any concerns that the current faces of hip-hop and R&B couldn't coexist on stage without appearing contrived or disjointed were easily dismissed. Timberlake displayed the full repertoire just on Jay Z singles alone. When the Memphis singer wasn't delivering hooks on "I Just Wanna Luv U" or "Excuse Me Miss," he was playing the guitar on "99 Problems" and the piano on "Ain't No Love (Heart of the City)." Timberlake’s own collection of wide-ranging records not only affirmed his versatility as a musician, but also cemented his status as one of this generation’s most transcendent entertainers. Fans were treated to nearly every JT hit – from the relatively new & soulful “Pusher Love Girl” to the upbeat & funky “LoveStoned” to the scathing, but classic “Cry Me A River.” Expectedly, it was Timberlake’s current radio jam “Mirrors” that resonated strongest with the crowd.
Inside Soldier Field during the show
The show had the feel of a JT concert, but had the aesthetic of a Jay Z production – stripped of any theatrics and choreographed routines, save for the mesmerizing light fixtures and a brief dance-break during “My Love.” Timberlake had more of a presence throughout the night than his hip-hop counterpart, who seemed to ad-lib his way on only one song void of rap, but that's not to say the Brooklyn native didn't command the stage when he performed solo.
Despite minimal movement relative to JT's perpetual activity, Jay Z was just as engaging on the microphone with such fan favorites as "Public Service Announcement," "N***** In Paris," and "Clique." Strategically, Hova performed the most familiar pieces of his catalog to the predominantly mainstream audience. The only potentially awkward moment of the night came when Chicago fans weren't very receptive to Timberlake's acapella rendition of "New York New York," which was meant to segue into Jay Z's "Empire State of the Mind." Regardless, the song still went on without a hitch, ultimately drawing fans’ enthusiastic participation on the famous Alicia Keys-driven chorus.
Before & After (photo by: Teddy Waffles)
The dynamic duo was impressive not just for their respective charismas, but also in light of the balance and pace maintained throughout the evening.During a stretch where Jay Z and JT alternated acts, the transitions were natural and seamless, thanks in part to the aforementioned band. The pair of pop icons effectively avoided a vibe of “dueling banjos” and consistently complemented the other.While there is an obvious overlap in the 2013 versions of these self-proclaimed legends, it’s fascinating and even funny to remember that this was ultimately a partnership between a drug dealer turned mogul and alumni of the Mickey Mouse Club/*NSync.JT and Jay Z successfully suppressed this dichotomy between their backgrounds and genres with a live show that lived up to its legendary billing.
Now if only the Bulls could fullfill my (irrational) expectations this season…