June 10 2023, by Harriet Kaplan Photos by Solaiman Fazel
Thirty-three years ago, I was thrilled and excited at the prospect of reviewing Janet Jackson live at the then L.A. Forum. I grew up with the Jacksons and saw them perform live, in 1981. The Rhythm Nation Tour in 1990 was Janet Jackson’s first headlining concert tour. In fact, it was launched in support of her fourth album, Rhythm Nation 1819 (1989), and featured material from her third album, Control, (1986).
My takeaway from that concert was the show itself was a dazzling heavily choreographed affair punctuated by stunning visual imagery. It was coupled with a body of songs that were imprinted on all fans’ minds in attendance. This was because they were at the top of the charts, therefore, being radio-friendly. The memorable numbers gave the listener something to think about. There were messages of self-determination and an emphasis on social consciousness for the youth-oriented target audience. At the forefront of it all, was Janet Jackson. She’s a gifted all-around entertainer and dancer. Jackson has that “IT” factor and is very likable and confident.
And now, just like back then- Jackson still possesses a whisper of vocal range. She does use it to great effect when the song she performs calls for it because she is being challenged by the material. Otherwise, there is a tendency for her faint and thin vocals to disappear more into the background. Jackson now, also as then, relies on backing tracks and lip-syncing. At times, it is necessary because she is moving briskly around the stage and dancing her ass off.
Opening night at the Hollywood Bowl season 2023 for the Together Tour last Saturday night, I was back seenig a Janet Jackson concert, along with Ludacris who opened. It felt a bit like Déjà vu all over again but it was different this time. Many years later, the audience is now multi-generational and yet continues to represent a multi-racial contingent.
All fans at this sold-out show were in a partying mood. They stood lining the aisles singing along, cheering, and dancing to all their favorite songs. Speaking of songs, this hour-and-a-half show was packed with 40 songs from her career-spanning catalog. As well as material never performed live: “Enjoy,” “Like You Don’t Love Me” and “Do It 2 Me.” Some numbers were done as a medley, and others got a more elongated and expansive treatment. To the critical ear, the dynamic wasn’t always satisfying or constant. The show did tend to lag and the momentum sometimes lost ground. The slower, mid-tempo ballads weren’t always captivating or gripping. Though “Let’s Wait Awhile” is one of the exceptions, being heartfelt, sincere, and poignant.
Otherwise, some of the material weighed down segments of the show. “Black Cat” was cut critically short when the show could have used an infusion of energy and power at that point in the night. Some fans could be seen leaving the bowl seating area when the “lull” was acutely felt. Nonetheless, the GRAMMY-Award-winning artist Janet Jackson and her talented, versatile, and adventurous dancers brought a lot of heat and entertainment value to the show. She was also supported musically by an exceptional backing band. There were a few quick wardrobe changes that were modern, glitzy, and on the cutting-edge of fashion.
One highlight of the evening included Jackson performing “Again” with YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles). The ensemble is made up of 16 members which was led by conductor Thomas Wilkins. Jackson also introduced Amerie, an 11-year-old musician, who came from the Bowl’s YOLA site at Inglewood that night to perform and is a percussionist.
Jackson told the audience “It felt so good to be home,” she said before joining YOLA. Jackson stressed: “Tonight is very special to me because we’re all here to support the LA Phil.” What is significant as well as the money made from the Bowl’s opening night will go on to benefit the Los Angeles Philharmonic and all its learning and community-based programs.
Another big highlight of the evening was a video compilation of significant moments in Janet Jackson’s life and fifty year career growing up and being the youngest sister in the Jackson 5 to go on to become a megastar in her own right as a solo artist. Watching this nostalgic video compilation brought feelings to all. Reminding us she is Jackson royalty through and through and an American cultural icon with staying power that can’t be denied.
Opener Hollywood Walk of Fame Inductee Ludacris was fierce and in your face live. He is renowned for a style of rap that is rapid-fire. Ludacris owned and stormed the stage. His forty-minute set was defiant, unforgettable, and thoroughly entertaining. There was never a dull moment. Ludacris has a commanding and formidable presence. The high-energy set by the multi-talented rapper, actor, and entrepreneur included 18 songs from his career among them was “What’s Your Fantasy,” a single that was his first hit, and “My Chick Bad” plus some of his verses from an uber-popular song by Usher “Yeah!”
Janet Jackson: Together Again, Opening Night at the Bowl Saturday, June 10, 2023
Ludacris, Thomas Wilkins/YOLA
6:00 PM House Opens
8:00 PM Ticket Time/Start Time
8:00-8:40 PM Ludacris (40′) 7:58:18 PM – 8:43:18 PM ( 45:00 ‘)
Southern Fried Intro
Welcome to ATL
Act a Fool
Lovers & Friends
Pimpin All Over The World
My Chick Bad
All I Do Is Win
8:40-9:00 PM Intermission (20′) 8:43:40 PM – 9:09:08 PM ( 25:28 ‘)
9:00-10:45PM Janet Jackson; Wilkins/YOLA (1 hr 45′) 9:09:25 PM – 11:00:35 PM ( 1:51:10 ‘)
Intro – Love Me
So Much Betta
Got ’til it’s Gone
That’s the Way Love Goes
What Have You Done For Me Lately
The Pleasure Principle
Because of Love
When I Think of You
The Best Things in Life are free
When We Oooo
Come Back to Me
Let’s Wait Awhile/Lonely
Again WITH YOLA
Any Time, Any Place
I Get Lonely
Doesn’t Really Matter
All For You
Come On Get Up
Like You Don’t Love Me
Do It 2 Me
Miss You Much
Love Will Never Do
(approx. 10:35p) Rhythm Nation w/Fireworks
Encore: Together Again
10:48 PM Show Break 11:00:00 PM
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