My friend and I went to see the Justin Timberlake Man of The Woods concert on February 6. Overall, it was a fantastic concert – JT has definitely earned his place as a top performer. And I mean performer in all instances of the word – he sings, he dances, he engages (e.g. like in the above pic!), he tells stories through the stage, songs, and choreography. He is thrilling to watch.
I am a fan. Maybe not to the level of my U2-ness, but a fan. I know and love the songs that come on the radio – I have an album or two that I listen to. And I knew his legend as a performer. All of which is why I wanted to go see him live.
And I am definitely glad I did – he is absolutely worth seeing live. The night had its issues, but those included, artists, set designers, audience members, venues and others could learn a thing or two from this particular tour. So here’s a Master Class on concerts based on this fine example:
JT’s stage was incredible. It had the typical main stage at one end of the venue, a B-stage at the other end and a connecting catwalk to get there. But – it also had a C-stage in the middle, surrounded by a drink bar and the VIP section, and the catwalk twisted to and from each stage. It is a thing of crazy beauty. It definitely, ahem, set the stage for the show.
Not only was this a super cool set up for the staging/theatrics of the show – it created an insane amount of rail space for fans to hang out at. The floor was general admission/standing, and rather than only the few lucky/early birds who manage to get front row at the main and b-stage and the rest struggle to see over the crowd of people, this set up had scads of prime real estate.
This of course means lower capacity on the floor/fewer tickets to sell, but potentially happier fans that feel closer-connected to the artist – that intimate gig feeling yet still room to offer a creative arena show. Those of us sitting at the farthest point from the main stage also got the chance to feel that connection – sometimes when there is only a main stage, or if the B-stage is mid way, the far end feels cut off – you can’t see without binoculars or you spend most of the time watching the jumbo-trons, which also cuts that sense of direct connection between audience and artist.
But with this stage set, and the fact that JT spent his time seemingly equally between all three, we all, more or less, got to have that close connection.
The set design was also spectacular. JT had grass growing out of one of the stages and a campfire, for crying out loud! He also served his band and backup dancers/singers shots from the VIP bar :D.
The light show throughout the night was on point. It added to the atmosphere and story-telling and was visually impressive. There were also curtains that came down as part of the design and at times had images projected on them. This was dramatic, cool, added to the theatrics.
However, the lighting rig/sound system was placed so low and in such a way that those of us in the upper bowl could not see large portions of the show. Or at least those of us in the middle to top rows along the back of the arena (furthest from the main stage). In fact, other than the few times movement happened in between one particular set of lights, and to the left side, I could not see huge parts of the main stage. I can only assume that the other people around the top rows would have the same issues with other parts of the stage.
I’ve been to other concerts where part of the lighting rig or sound system obstructed certain angles, but usually the tickets very specifically pointed this out before you bought them or those sections were blocked off and not on sale at all. These tickets did not mention that views might be obstructed. Had they have done so, I likely would have chosen different seats.
In addition to the low hanging light/sound system, the curtains, when they were down, further obstructed the view. Yes, they were cool and dramatic and added a visual element, they also distorted the view. I had to try to peek between the gaps in the curtains for a clearer view.
The lesson here is for set designers (and artists) to be aware of how the set can lead to obstructed views and then deal with it in a way that is fair to the audience. If you have to set the lighting/sound this low, work with whoever is in charge of such things to either block off these tickets from sales or make it clear to ticket buyers that views will be obstructed and discount the tickets.
The other lesson, if you do not want to do either of these things is to use the freakin jumbo-trons… Rogers Place has huge screens that could have provided a lovely view of all that was lost through the lighting rigs, but they were not used at all.
I love a concert that is organized well with a theme or story and this was that. This was the Man of The Woods tour and it definitely had that feel – from the grass growing out of the stage, the campfire, the projections of wildlife on those curtains, to the camping plaid of Justin’s shirt, this was a well though-out theme and it worked.
It’s JT, there’s gonna be fabulous choreo… that’s just a given. My favorite – the stripped down, man with a microphone stand during Suit and Tie. Elegant, super cool, effective. Memorable. You don’t have to go all out, all the time. Sometimes simple is the best way to go.
But, you know, the all out dancing is fun too 😀
Have an amazing band and backup and take them along the catwalk/ B stages with you. The Tennessee Kids were all that.
How to Treat Your Opening Acts
The opening act for JT was Canadian singer/songwriter Francesco Yates. He and his band were really good. The bassist in particular was absolutely delightful to watch, he owned the stage, a ball of energy.
But, outside of the talent, the most noticeable and awesome thing about the opening act was the freedom they were granted. I have never seen an opening act that didn’t stay confined to one area of the stage, that didn’t have much in the way of the lighting or sound that the main act has. There are reasons for that, including not wanting to give away the elements of the headliner’s show in advance, and I get it.
While Francesco Yates did not use all the elements, he certainly had way more freedom then any other arena/stadium opener I’ve seen. They played from the stage closest to me (not main stage) and ran up and down the catwalk to the middle stage, They used the curtains for their name and had decent lighting.
It was cool to see – I give Justin huge props for that. The point of the opener isn’t just to warm up the crowd, give em something to watch before the main act, it’s also meant to give the opener exposure, lift them up, introduce their music to your fans. And if you are gonna do that, do it… Don’t hobble them with a tiny corner of your stage and improper lighting/sound. I mean, definitely don’t ruin the surprises of the main show, you don’t have to share everything, but share. Lifting them lifts you.
And Most Of All:
Its About The Fans
Justin engaged with the fans like no other, always running through slapping hands, bending down to their level, and eye contact, eye contact, eye contact. Some of my favorite photos from the night are the two above with the fans and this one. Just look at their faces!
The DJ that spun a few songs before the show also engaged well with the fans – he brought up two kids to have a dance off with him… they were adorable and fearless. And then the DJ came up into the upper bowl to find fans to bring down to the VIP section. I’ve always thought that if a concert doesn’t sell out, the venue/artists should somehow allow fans to move down to the better seats. This was kind of that.
So there, overall, a great show. While we were watching, I was tempted to buy tickets for the next night as well so that I could get a better seat, a better view. I didn’t, because, well, money. But it would have been nice to experience the whole thing from a place where I could see the whole thing 😀
For more photos, check out my 2019 Gallery.