HOLLYWOOD — Never get between Justin Timberlake and his fans.
Before JT took the House of Blues stage Friday night, two men made the mistake of trying to squeeze into the first row past the die-hards who had rushed to the front when the doors opened at 8 p.m. A pack of ladies who hadn’t met one another before waiting in line outside the venue banded together to move the men back.
The incident set the scene for the intimate show, where the crowd’s loyalty to the former boy-bander came through in its equal excitement for his mega-hits and for brand-new tracks from his September 12 release, FutureSex/LoveSounds.
The singer made his way onstage to the “Inspector Gadget” theme, suavely decked out in a fitted pink-and-white checkered shirt, pink tie and gray dress pants. He went right into one of his biggest solo hits, the Britney-skewering “Cry Me a River,” with girlfriend Cameron Diaz singing along from the balcony. Pulling from Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” Timberlake repeatedly sang, “I bet you think this song is about you,” over the song’s final bars.
In a shout-out to his home state, a quick taste of Arrested Development’s “Tennessee” morphed into “Señorita,” another single from Timberlake’s first album, Justified. He hopped onto the keyboard for this one, joining a live band that featured two electric guitars and no DJ.
“I feel good tonight,” Timberlake said after wrapping up the song’s sing-along finale. “I’m sure you guys are hip to this already, but I’m gonna play some new songs for y’all. Hope you like ‘em. If you don’t, f— you!”
“My Love,” the next single from Timberlake’s upcoming LP, kick-started a string of new songs. The slow and saucy track will feature T.I. on the album, but the crowd had to settle for JT’s beat-boxing in the Atlanta rapper’s absence. Next, he performed “Damn Girl,” rolling up his sleeves for the “SexyBack”-style club cut. Black Eyed Peas mastermind and Timberlake producer Will.I.Am, the night’s first surprise guest, played to the pumped-up audience as he rapped along with the singer.
“This guy doesn’t need a producer,” Will said after the song. “He can produce himself.”
After Will exited, the crowd got a sample of Timberlake’s first solo single, “Like I Love You,” with Justin playing mariachi-style guitar. The band then went for a whole new sound, breaking into Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Not to lose focus, JT got back to the new stuff. Before kicking off “Until the End of Time,” a slow jam à la R. Kelly, Timberlake (back on keyboard) told the audience, “This song’s for the lovers.” Then the rapid “Love Stone” inspired Justin to show off his dancing skills and lose the tie.
The show slowed back down with “Take It From Here,” an ethereal cut from his first album. Justin had the ladies’ undivided attention as he sang, “When all the love feels gone/ And you can’t carry on/ Don’t worry, girl/ I’mma take it from here.”
“It’s a couple minutes since I been here, and it feels really good,” said Timberlake, who hasn’t released a new album in four years.
JT got back on the keyboard for “What Goes Around,” the soon-to-be karma classic from his new album, which he’s insisted isn’t about former flame Britney Spears. The moody song includes the biting line “I was ready to give you my name.” He followed up the new track with a pared-down version of the similarly bitter — but more upbeat — “Last Night,” another non-single from Justified.
After a string of new and lesser-known tracks, Timberlake gave his fans what they wanted — a high-energy hit — with “Rock Your Body,” adding a little back-and-forth banter.
“Y’all tired yet?” he asked his louder-than-ever fans.
“Hell no!” they yelled.
“Y’all ready to quit?”
As he crooned, “So go ‘head girl just do/ That ass-shakin’ thing you do,” JT did a little shakin’ of his own, which went over well with the mostly female crowd. Two of the backup singers joined Timberlake onstage for a dance interlude that really loosened the singer up. He loosened up a little more when, after the song, he summoned a shot girl over to the stage and grabbed a test tube of tequila.
“Normally I don’t do these types of things, but you make me feel so comfortable,” he told the crowd before downing the shot.
“It tastes so good when it hits your lips!” he said, paraphrasing Will Ferrell’s “Old School” line.
Justin then promised “some Memphis hip-hop” as two members of Three 6 Mafia, who are featured on the new LP, joined him onstage. The crowd heard some rare rapping from the singer as he tried to keep up with the Oscar-winning MCs.
Timbaland popped onstage next, and JT took over for Nelly Furtado in a bite from the producer’s #1 single “Promiscuous.” Timberlake also channeled Annie Lennox as the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” led into his latest single, “SexyBack.” The drummer worked overtime to re-create Timbaland’s intricate beat, and JT and Tim fed off of each other’s energy, running all over the stage as the fast-paced comeback track closed the show.
Celebrities — including Paris and Nicky Hilton, Tyra Banks, Spike Lee, Ellen DeGeneres and girlfriend Portia De Rossi, Kate Bosworth and Timberlake’s former ‘NSYNC bandmate Lance Bass — crowded the VIP balcony at the small show. As fans filed out of the concert, they were pumped about JT’s energy and his new material.
“His passion about his music comes through in his performance,” said Elian Dashev of Los Angeles. “You can tell he’s having fun and you have fun with him.”
“The new sound’s much more mature and funky,” added Robin Chen of Taiwan.
Irvine, California’s Kristina Gonzales couldn’t even form a sentence when describing the concert.
“Unbelievable. Incredible experience. The most awesome show ever.”
See Justin bring the sexy back on Tuesday when “All Eyes on Justin Timberlake” airs at 11 p.m. on MTV. Hear him talk about his new LP, ‘NSYNC and what exactly a guy does when he’s achieved all of his dreams at 21.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.