Review: Janet Jackson at the Greek
There was a lot of Janet Jackson at the Greek Theatre Thursday night before Janet Jackson arrived onstage.
First she appeared in music-video form, as depicted in the futuristic 1995 clip for “Scream,” her aggrieved duet with her brother Michael. Next we saw her name darting across the wraparound screen at the rear of the stage; the visual was accompanied by Jackson’s disembodied voice delivering gnomic pronouncements on life, love and the nature of art.
And then, finally, the singer herself, a tiny, denim-wrapped woman surrounded by an extensive supporting cast: eight musicians, seven dancers and innumerable images of Jackson over the course of her long career in show business.
If her physical presence seemed overpowered by the accumulation of so much archival information, well, perhaps that was the point: Thursday’s concert was the final North American date of Jackson’s Number Ones: Up Close and Personal tour, a globe-circling production dedicated to showcasing her 25 years’ worth of number-one hits. (A best-of collection, Jackson’s second, came out in 2009.)
Unlike previous Jackson tours—think of her baroque late-’90s trek in support of “The Velvet Rope”—this one carries no discernible theme, no implied narrative beyond her own pop-star ubiquity. Indeed, the show has been pared down further since it first stopped in Los Angeles, at the Gibson Amphitheatre, for three nights in April; Jackson’s sole costume change Thursday was the removal of a white jean jacket.
The result, on one hand, served as a refreshingly straightforward accounting of Jackson’s music, much of which is vivid enough to withstand the transparent presentation. “Again,” a winsome ballad from 1993’s “Janet,” floated with an airiness befitting Jackson’s feathery voice (which she appeared to be using for most of the show). In contrast, “I Get Lonely,” from “The Velvet Rope,” plumbed relatively raw neo-soul depths.
Jackson made slight adjustments to several tunes, including “Miss You Much,” in which she accented the blocky dance-pop rhythm differently than she did in the 1989 studio version. But like many changes in Jackson’s life, these were cosmetic, inspired less by the desire to retrofit the songs, it seemed, than to revive her interest in material she’s performed countless times before. That they also flattered her fans’ attention to detail only strengthened Jackson’s claim that she owed it all to us.
As expertly as she moved through these proceedings, though, Jackson withheld much of what has made her a compelling personality for so long: her complicated notions of sex and romance, for instance, or the obsession with control that is an inevitable idée fixe in a life as examined as Jackson’s. A more meaningful experience—one better suited to her appealing idiosyncrasies—seemed to lurk within Thursday’s show, and maybe Jackson knew it. Why else would she have inserted a lengthy montage of film and TV clips (from the likes of “Good Times” and “Why Did I Get Married?”) in which she portrayed characters threatened by extreme circumstances? They were doing the heavy lifting Jackson declined to, and if you couldn’t blame her for taking the break, you couldn’t help noticing the lightness of her load, as well.
Photo: Janet Jackson performs at the Greek. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times