Older, Wiser and Sexier in Albany: Timberlake Brings Man of the Woods to Upstate

Justin Timberlake kept step with his reputation for fast-paced, almost dizzying energy at his “Man of the Woods” tour on Saturday, October 20th at the Times Union. Timberlake and The Tennessee Kids infiltrated hip-hop music with some country vibe with a good outcome to an arena of mostly screaming, gyrating women of varying ages.

In a dramatic entry, complete with laser show and smoke, Timberlake danced in with the same high energy he had as a teen performer in his boy band, NSYNC, but with the sexy confidence of a much wiser, older performer. He appeared to be having a great time, singing and dancing to “Filthy,” and reminding the audience repeatedly that he knew where he was, calling out to Albany during choruses.

Timberlake looked to be broadening his style a bit, showing a music video by the TN Kids covering “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” before coming on stage. But after crooning out the John Denver song, the words, “If you love this country, you’re a country boy” scrolled across the screen, literally reminding fans to be inclusive in their thoughts about what to expect from Timberlake.

Timberlake was dressed in a denim jacket adorned with a pine tree, black denim, and a white T underneath. His white sneakers shone in the light as he moved his feet with grace, appearing effortless as he danced in perfect time with his dancers and fellow musicians.

He sang songs from his new album, “Midnight Summer Jam,” clapping along and highlighting musicianship in his band as much as his dancing. He appeared re-made, in some ways, to highlight a more folksy persona. His songs touched on the topic of love for his famous wife, Jessica Beil, and his young son Sam.

Even so, the athletic performer didn’t shy away from old tunes. He jumped and danced to “Sexy Back,” reaching back to his fans from his first solo releases in the early 2000s. Indeed, some of the fans seemed to love him since his days on the Mickey Mouse Club, singing along with “Cry Me a River” and “Mirrors.” He invited Albany to “shake your upstate ass” as he himself shook his with the vivacity of a much younger hip-hop artist.

Timberlake’s singing and dancing are only part of the show that makes it so much fun, though. He interacted with the crowd, talking with fans and revealing an audience member’s baby’s gender (it was a girl, or as Timberlake stated, “A little princess”) and pointing to audience members who seemed genuinely engaged. The sound at the TU was well balanced, making each syllable accessible to the crowd so that they could participate. Often, Timberlake dropped his microphone and let the audience sing along entire verses with glee.

The screens that dropped from the ceiling, reflecting with videos, added to the visual appeal of the night. This show was different than most pop concerts brought to Albany; it was unexpected and clearly reaching for some creative messages. There were sets that changed: a campfire for a transition portion of the concert that featured the TN Kids’ vocalists, grasses and trees to generate a natural feel, and a background video about accepting all love added to the uniqueness of the experience. And then there were the laser shows, almost never used in our community for concerts.

This was an arena performance.

Most rockers from the 1990s return to Albany to play just their old stuff and stand in one place; Timberlake introduced some new music woven in with older songs, danced like he’s still 16, and helped fans forget they were in the warehouse of the TU for two hours.

After the campfire sub-story, which quite possibly highlighted some of the sweetest voices by TN Kids’ singing Fleetwood Mac, Laryn Hill, Beatles, and John Denver’s covers, Timberlake played a tender “What Goes Around…Comes Around” before transitioning back to his current album. Returning to the main stage for “Say Something,” Timberlake’s recent hit with Chris Stapleton, the energy skyrocketed through the last seven songs.

The high energy performer had fun, and so did his fans who were exhausted just watching him run, dance, jump and sing with his beautiful, velvet tenor voice. There were no bad seats in the house, as Timberlake played to the whole house, moving around so much between stages and on a walkway. For over two hours, Timberlake and the TN Kids tirelessly celebrated on stage.

While it appears Timberlake is reaching for a new branding of sorts, he also appears to know the formula to keep fans blissfully engaged. By expanding to country music a bit, the wise Timberlake is making a nod to his birthplace, Tennessee, that is exploding bluegrass sound at present, while also staying engaged with the hip-hop fan base that grew his popularity the past 20+ years.

His new songs, beautiful personal love songs to his wife and child, certainly show a more grown, mature performer who has the wisdom not to forget the past in search of the future. And his fans are learning from his wisdom: they too, regardless of age, appear to love Timberlake as much today as they did yesterday, if not more.

Justin Timberlake certainly brought sexy back to Albany: an older, wiser, more mature sexy than years past, a sexy that was way more enjoyable than expected.

Set list:

Filthy, Midnight Summer Jam, LoveStoned, SexyBack, Man of the Woods, Higher Higher, Señorita, Suit & Tie, My Love, Cry Me a River, Mirrors, Drink You Away, Until the End of Time(acoustic), Dreams (Fleetwood Mac cover), Ex-Factor (Lauryn Hill cover) Come Together (The Beatles cover), Thank God I’m a Country Boy

(John Denver cover), Morning Light, What Goes Around… Comes Around, (acoustic)Say Something, Montana, Summer Love, Rock Your Body, Supplies, Like I Love You, Can’t Stop the Feeling!