Jay Z and Justin Timberlake

Rose Bowl

July 28, 2013

When Jay Z performed at Staples Center in December 2011 with Kanye West, it was a very serious show, with sharks and wild animal visuals, Kanye daring anyone to say anything about his skirt, and lots of talks of “thrones” and “watching them.” Last night at the Rose Bowl with Justin Timberlake, however, the vibe was a chillaxed-to-the-max party where all 60,000 of us were going to have fun, dammit! “Are you ready for a legendary evening or what?” JT asked the crowd to start the show. It's funny how he loses his sense of humor when Andy Samberg isn't around.

The show seemed to feature more of the fedora-clad newlywed singer than the backwards Nets cap-sporting rapper. Even when JT's songs weren't being performed, he was usually hanging around somewhere, either mean mugging or doing a poor Frank Sinatra imitation as a warm-up to “Empire State of Mind” or a doing a poor Bobby Bland impression on “Heart of the City (Ain't No Love).” But he was out to show off his talents in other ways, too, such as when he played the piano, the acoustic guitar, and the electric guitar at different points. Although perhaps he just needed something to do with his hands.

See also: Our slideshow of the concert

Justin Timberlake; Credit: Timothy Norris

Justin Timberlake; Credit: Timothy Norris

Jay-Z, of course, can do songs like “Public Service Announcement” and “Encore” in his sleep, but to his credit he wasn't literally sleeping most of the time. He was content mainly to flash grins and ask folks to put their cell phones in the air, and heroically managed to resist plugging Samsung.

He let his partner do most of the heavy lifting, which saw Justin dancing around solo constantly. Without the rigid, choreographed moves from his Nsync days to fall back on, he staggered around herky jerky, at times seeming to consider taking his moves in an ironic direction, but then pulling back.

Look, I love Justin Timberlake, but anyone deluded enough to think the “Legends of the Summer Tour” was going to be a hip-hop show at heart (ie, me) was mistaken. Instead, Justin reached back for songs like that one where the ladies sing “I don't know what I'm thinkin' 'bout, really leaving witchoo,” which is a weird line. Sheesh; if he was going to go all the way in the teeny-bop direction why not just call out Lance, Joey and co. for “It's Gonna Be Me”?

See also: Top 20 Sexiest Male Musicians of All Time

The older, more cynical members of the crowd (again, me) were dreading the new songs. Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail is a particularly difficult slog, and the crowd was subjected to faux Nirvana right off the bat on “Holy Grail.” JT's latest single “Take Back the Night” also didn't really seem to play, though maybe I'm just biased because that's the name of an organization my mom used to be a part of, dedicated to reducing sexual violence. And besides, what's that song about, anyway? Regaining nightclubs by force from those who aren't wearing trendy headgear?

To their credit, the guys didn't go too deep on their new albums — and to be fair “Mirrors” killed, even though its chorus and mirror metaphor is perplexing, a seductive rhyming couplet inside a fortune cookie wrapped in a sudoku puzzle. They know what side their bread's buttered on; at first glance these guys would seem to be at the height of their earning powers, but really they've probably got decades of stadium tours still ahead of them, though I suspect this is probably their last together. Jay-Z's a notorious Swag Dracula, after all, and it's hard to go another round with someone after you've extinguished his blood.

Jay Z; Credit: Timothy Norris

Jay Z; Credit: Timothy Norris

I found myself longing for Kanye to burst onto stage and go on a long, painful rant about school lunches, or something. The show lacked urgency; though Jay touched hearts by dedicating the evening's final song to Trayvon Martin, the fact that said final song was the subpar “Young Forever” muddled things.

There were inspired moments, sure, like when Justin did MJ on a cover of “I Want You Back” that segued into “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” And it was nice to see Timbaland on stage for “SexyBack.” The now-cuddly producer thankfully seems to have cut back on his demanding workout and dietary regiment. Dr. Dre should take note.

And really, at the end of the day, when you've got songs that were designed by the brightest minds in the business to rock stadiums, you're going to rock stadiums. “Cry Me a River” was epicly crushing, and you certainly can't do much better than a live tuba on “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem).” In fact the entire backing ensemble was in good form. There were about 20 of them, including singers, mainly dressed in red, though I wasn't clear which were members of JT's Tennessee Kids backup act and which were hired touring guns.

Great concerts take you outside of yourself, outside of your surroundings, making you briefly consider the wonders of your life and your existence. “Legends of the Summer,” on the other hand, made me briefly consider that my fresh-squeezed lemonade was very delicious. In the grand scheme of things, that's probably enough.

See also: Our slideshow of the concert

Follow Ben Westhoff on Twitter @brwestho and @LAWeeklyMusic, and like us at LAWeeklyMusic.

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