Justin Timberlake is a Man of the Woods. There’s a path winding through a forest. The trunks and branches of the trees are sparsely suggested, but there are real ones too. They are the arms and fingers of the fans reaching for him, swaying in the breeze of these beats, sometimes urgently, sometimes softly, always passionate, and usually holding a cell phone.
There is one man, one man that is suddenly simultaneously a crew of twenty when they are together The Tennessee Kids. These are the visible extensions of Justin. Beyond sight, the roots go deep. It takes an army to run a concert tour such as this, even one that works so hard to come off as minimalist.
This is Timberlake’s sixth headlining (or co-headlining) concert tour as a solo artist. It follows and serves to promote the release of his fourth solo album, Man of the Woods (or fifth if you count The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2 as additional). While I haven’t yet come across someone in my life who is intimately familiar with this new album, the tour is doing alright, to say the least.
The “Man of the Woods Tour” is #1 on Billboard’s Hot Tours list for May 4, 2018. No wonder because we get what we came for — a satisfyingly-long show put on by a superstar a the height of his abilities. Timberlake (“the President of Pop, the closest thing we got to Michael Jackson” — Charlamagne) is at complete ease performing, confident with soaking up waterfalls of love for himself, his band, his hits, and the greatest of his new songs.
In fact the crowds that attended at Infinite Energy Center on Friday, May 11, in Duluth, Georgia, were fully engaged for almost every song performed, even though it was a set chock-full of a startling ten out of his new album’s sixteen tracks. I’m not complaining, there’s a lot of treasure in there, and his hits are, come on, incredible.
Setlist | Justin Timberlake at Infinite Energy Arena, May 11, 2018
“If you know what’s good…! If you know what’s good…!”
- “Filthy” from Man of the Woods
- “Midnight Summer Jam” from Man of the Woods
- “Lovestoned” from FutureSex/LoveSounds
- “Sexy Back” from FutureSex/LoveSounds
- “Man of the Woods” from Man of the Woods
- “Higher Higher” from Man of the Woods
- “Señorita” from Justified
- “Suit & Tie” from The 20/20 Experience
- “My Love” from FutureSex/LoveSounds (with some “Bad & Boujee” by Migos thrown in)
- “Cry Me a River” from FutureSex/LoveSounds
- “Mirrors” from The 20/20 Experience
- “Drink You Away” from Man of the Woods
The first act had showcased Justin the singer, the dancer, the keyboard player, and the guitar player. It had proved that songs from MotW solidly belong amongst the best of his catalogue — that he’s still got it — and we’re still lovin’ it (no pun intended).
While the campfire scene was being set up (you didn’t think there would be a campfire?), we were treated to a sweet video interlude about love. It was to perhaps set the mood for the love song he was about to sing at the top of the second act, all laid back and casual around a fire with his friends. The whole evening had facade of casual actually.
On top of J.T.’s slick sharp moves, and the band’s perfect cohesion, costumes were lo-fi. The fringed motorcycle jacket Timberlake had opened with came off for “Suit & Tie” in favor of a simple blazer (no tie though, and always the sneakers). And for “Mirrors”, the blazer was discarded to reveal Justin (ironically but still charmingly) in his own tour tee.
When act two began, the black jeans were traded for blue, I assume the tee was changed out, and he wore one of those classic brown barn jackets for the rest of the set. I assume he was nuts-hot in there, but it was a thing, and he was committed.
- “Flannel” from Man In the Woods
- “Until the End of Time” from FutureSex/LoveSounds
- Backup Singer Showcase:
- “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac
- “Ex-Factor” by Lauryn Hill
- “Come Together” by The Beatles
- “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” by John Denver
- “Morning Light” from Man In the Woods
- “What Goes Around” from FutureSex/LoveSounds
- “Say Something” from Man In the Woods
- “Montana” from Man In the Woods
- “Summer Love” from FutureSex/LoveSounds
- “Rock Your Body” from the album, Justified
- “Supplies” from Man In the Woods
- “Like I Love You” from the album, Justified
- “Can’t Stop This Feeling!” from DreamWorks’ motion picture, “Trolls“
The show closed with the enormously positive, sweet, uplifting “Can’t Stop This Feeling!” No fake endings (which I’m frankly so sick of). Instead, Timberlake had provided the encore-begging-experience moments throughout, right there on the stage. He might stand there, or sit there on his knees, for a minute or even several at a time, bathing in the adoration, massaged by the screaming, and due to the winding path staging, always only a few feet or less from his fans.
“Rock Your Body” had been performed on the floor, surrounded by lucky members of the audience.
And some luckier still had J.T. grabbing their phones to take selfies. The luckiest among them got selfies with him, or were band members that got to have a drink with the man right there on stage — somehow leaving us all with a sense that he’s one of us, still human.
He’s just super human, I mean let’s be real.
Man of the Woods — The Album
It’s intriguing to me that while I’m a fan, I wasn’t at all familiar with the content of this Timberlake release. And, that many people I talked to before, during, and since the concert, said the same thing. Why is that?
I’m going to go out on a limb here. Could it be that we can’t seem to collate the “urban” styles and locales we associate with Timberlake, with the MotW marketing imagery of J.T. in harsh-outdoor wear, doing “outdoorsy” things in rural locations?
Unpack that for a second. Why can’t rural activities include urban music? Why can’t urban music be infused with the roots of a person’s personal history, such as being from Memphis, Tennessee, an area as steeped in country music as the blues. Any chance this is unconsciously political (I ask myself)? Why can’t an urban artist write an Americana song (“Flannel”) and play it in an arena without audiences wavering?
Timberlake can afford to be who he wants to be at any one time, to enjoy the activities and cultures that intrigue and soothe him. Heck, I like a good campfire with a loving partner, and a circle of family or good friends. I like a little kayaking, and crisp Montana morning air too once in a while, and the gorgeous views of mountains covered in dark green in Tennessee. In the right mood and context I’ll totally be down for the sing along experience of my away-camp years. Invite me and I’ll join in.
Maybe J.T. is screwing with us a little. Because while “Flannel” (and the lengthy background singer showcase) seemed to test the live audience’s patience a little bit, why would he produce a sexy R&B-pop song that’s solidly in his established style lane, not say a word about environment throughout the song till oddly the very end (“take me back to…”) with still no actual context, call it “Montana“, and promote it with remote-outdoor imagery? And yet then again, why not.
I’m not an Americana music-phobe myself anyway, and I’ll bet neither are you. So why did it take me three months to listen to the incredible J.T. duet with country music superstar Chris Stapleton, “Say Something”. It’s innovative and interesting and repeat-listening genre fusion. My loss.
So just in case you’ve side-stepped this album too, and video is the way to your soul, I’d like to share some of the best-of with you, and one classic reminder.
“The Nashville sound meets the soul of Memphis. The CMA New Artist of the Year  shares a drink with his superstar buddy from the home of the blues.” — Brad Paisley, introducing Stapleton and Timberlake singing together “Tennessee Whiskey” at the 2015 Country Music Awards
Timberlake played acoustic guitar for many of this concert’s songs, even several not from his recent release. This is J.T.’s acoustic guitar playing, and his music box captaining, and his theatrical esthetic, and his raw talent, at some of its most riveting. I get the goosebumps. It’s beautifully shot, powerfully performed, and leaves me wondering if I don’t know precisely what it’s about.
Audiences who don’t know the MotW album well wouldn’t have known they were listening Timberlake perform a song called “Montana” till the end of it. They were watching J.T. and the Kids kick it to a super smooth tune dance tune and went along for the ride. It’s reminiscent of one of my favorites, “Rock Your Body” so I’m sharing it instead considering there’s no production vid for “Montana” yet. This video has the distinction of the very first video I ever downloaded via modem so that I could watch it at home repeatedly without buying the VHS video collection (yet), nor having to catching it on VH1.
We may not be naked yet, but we’re no doubt all thinking about it.
You want straight up quality hip-hop from Justin Timberlake?? FINE. Here. (Hi, Pharrell.)
Man of the Woods — The Song
It’s ultimately pop — a jaunty Motown-harmonied song backed with some country twang guitar — and it’s silly, but still make-no-mistake sexy. “But then your hands talking, fingers walking / Down your legs, hey, there’s the faucet.” Justin gets away with so much with that gleeful twinkle in his eye.
I’ll close with J.T.’s opening number on this tour. “Filthy” was an explosive way to start a night. It’s a hard-pop anthem that announces the entrance of a superstar. No incredible lighting production, support posse, screaming fans needed.
If you’re science fiction fan, check out the video. Regardless, you’ll be hard-pressed to deny Timberlake has in fact got his swagger back, once again…
Opening Act: The Shadowboxers
Tight tenor or falsetto-led harmonies. Singer-dancer-producer-instrumentalist performers. Hip-hop, and R&B-inspired dance pop.
If I were Justin Timberlake, I’d be flattered too at the imitation considering the choices The Shadowboxers have made to follow in his music-style footsteps with their considerable talent.
I question the decision to open with a band that has such an exactingly similar sound, but… I like that sound, so who am I to judge after all. Check out their release from this month that wasn’t included in their opening set for the Man In the Woods Tour, “Woman Through the Wall.” This is precisely the kind of music we appreciate and groove to from Timberlake (Shadowboxers are signed to his Villa 40 label). And Midoca’s remix isn’t half bad either (read: it’s now in my club-chill playlist).
The Shadowboxers are Atlanta-met founding members Adam Hoffman (vocals, guitars), Matt Lipkins (vocals, keyboards) and Scott Tyler (vocals, guitars). Clear influences include J.T. and “boy bands” such as N-Sync and The Jacksons, and, like J.T. — Michael Jackson, Prince, and the BeeGees.
- “Stop” (perhaps from their self-titled 2011 EP)
- “Brakes” (from Apollo)
- “Wolves” (from Apollo)
- “Timezone” (from Apollo)
- “Remember The Time” by Michael Jackson (video by Michael Jackson)
- “Shadowboxer” (from Apollo)
- “Hot Damn!” (from Apollo, video performance for for SiriusXM Hits 1)
Their recent EP release, “Apollo”, can be purchased or streamed from all the platforms, here.
During this night’s performance, they mentioned they’d performed at a Libro Musica-favorite of local Atlanta small venues, Eddie’s Attic. My instant reaction was, “how’d they get all those band members onto the Eddie’s Attic stage? And dance too??”
What you can’t get from these Spotify listens and any of the YouTube videos I’ve been able to find, are the visuals of these gentlemen as dancers. Touring large-scale, they have the luxury of stepping out from behind their instruments, relying on a backup band and likely some excellent backing track mixing too. When dance is part of the showmanship that makes a band’s total package, it’s critical to #ListenLive.
Aside from opening for Timberlake’s “Man In the Woods Tour”, The Shadowboxers are headlining their own stops along the way. Their “On The Side Tour” can still be caught in Miami, Florida, at The Ground, on May 20, 2018.
There you may catch other good Shadowboxers songs live, like “Build the Beat” (over 2.7 million streams on Spotify), and “Runaway” (off Apollo, produced by J.T.). And if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll do some of their pretty sweet Justin Timberlake covers.