View more photos in Timothy Norris' “Timbaland @ House of Blues” slideshow.
“Do you all like my beats?,” a deep voice wondered over the packed House of Blues din. “I SAID, do you all like my beats?” Climbing a banister was the only way to glimpse the wizard of Oz emerging from behind a huge, bright LCD screen on stage. You'd expect Timbaland to be short, having seen him on television standing eye to eye with Nelly Furtado. But TV could not possibly convey the proportions of his Pillsbury-strongman body. Tree-trunk thick arms extended out of his round short torso. With pecs as big as his face, Timbo can probably bench-press a house.
Wearing snazzy headphones connected to a device in his pocket — perhaps a tiny brainwave-controlled studio — Timbaland offered to make some beats. He turned a dial or two before songs, but a band did most of the live work. The band's jam improv late in the show was actually one of the evening's highlights, besides Justin Timberlake's appearance, of course. There were times though, that music pumped from the speakers but no instrument was being played, and pre-recorded vocals outsang the special guests. Occasionally you could catch a live voice adding a few extra “ooh's.”
What is the nature of this pervasive aspect in hip-hop-pop performance? Is it a weird nod to boombox tradition? Even when a show involves extensive dancing, singers should sing, rappers should rap, and let it be known they get breathless. In little bits we could hear the sweet, able, tone of Keri Hilson's voice “Turnin' Me On” but she wasn't even dancing so why, Timbaland, why is the radio louder than the flesh? Is mainstream insistence on FM-perfect presentation to blame? Also, Timbaland did not really beat-box, a signature production touch we've respected since the days of Missy, Magoo, and “freaky-freaky” R&B.
A few newcomers you may not know by name elicited cheers when the audience recognized their radio hits. The producer has always been faithful to fostering new talent, even if he should leave emo rock alone so it can wither and fade. Drake came out to “Say Somethin'” with Timbaland, and the tattooed So Shy rap-sang “Morning After Dark” from Timbaland's latest album, Shock Value II. In addition to half of MTV's current stock, Timbaland has been producing Brandy's beats for several years now, and the '90s R&B star looked foxy in her leather leotard.
Justin Timberlake, bundled up in hat, scarf, and jacket, gave the impression he was just walking by outside and stopped in to say hello and entertain an aughties pop medley. The crowd's delirious joy at JT's arrival could have only been surpassed by a visitation from Aaliyah's ghost.