"I must confess, it's been a while. And for that, I apologize," Justin Timberlake told the sold-out, star-packed, standing-room-only crowd inside the Hollywood Palladium on Sunday night (February 10), and he wasn't talking about how long they'd been waiting just to get in to the show.
After all, as we're sure you're aware, Timberlake hadn't performed a solo set in something like five years, and though he officially broke that drought last weekend in New Orleans, his Sunday-night, post-Grammy performance felt like his true, triumphant return. Maybe that was due to the sheer volume of celebs in attendance (we spotted Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, Scooter Braun and Neil Patrick Harris ... and that was just on one side of the venue), the number of folks who lined up around the building to get in, or the fact that, from the moment he strode onto the stage, JT seemed determine to make everyone forget about his lengthy hiatus from music.
It was probably that last thing. Because backed by a classy, cracking band (16 musicians, all jiving and jabbing in perfect synchronization), Timberlake powered through a set that saw him put new spins on old favorites — "Like I Love You" climaxed with a killer guitar solo and keen falsettos, "Cry Me A River" (with bonus version of "N----s in Paris" thrown in for good measure) and a sumptuously slowed-down take on "What Goes Around" — and debut a handful of new tunes, each of which pointed towards a cool, confident new direction.
"Pusher Love Girl" (which he'd performed a few hours earlier during the Grammy telecast) paired widescreen strings with pealing organs, "That Girl" was part slow jam, part step song, piling on the chimes and roiling to a bouncing, boundless chorus and "Suit & Tie" — to the surprise of almost no one — saw him welcome Jay-Z onto the stage, as the two playfully traded verses and the big band bopped.
There were covers (INXS's "Need You Tonight" and the Jackson's "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)," both of which were standouts) deeper cuts, like "Summer Love," "Señorita" and "LoveStoned," and, of course, he closed things out with "SexyBack." And while all of those things made his Palladium set nearly identical to the one he unspooled a week earlier in New Orleans, there was something undeniably different about the California show ... Timberlake's unmatched showmanship, the air-tight exchanges between he and the Tennessee Kids band, the way he held the audience in the palm of his hand throughout. Part Sinatra, part Sly Stone, he commanded the stage like he knew he was the only ticket in town — post-Grammy parties be damned — and he was going to prove that point.
And after 90 minutes, sweaty but smiling, it's safe to say he did just that. Sure, it's been a while, but with the majority of the music business in attendance (or fighting with the doorman to get in), Timberlake didn't shrink from the spotlight, not even an inch. Needless to say, this one was was worth the wait.