On Friday night, Janet Jackson silenced naysayers who expected her to cancel her concert at the HSBC Arena by taking the stage and delivering an aggressively entertaining set of old and new tunes. This Buffalo, NY stop on her “All for You tour marked another milestone for the veteran artist, who proved to be more comfortable with own ability to command an audience than ever before.
Gone were the showy and sometimes cloying postures that popped up in some of her past concerts, such as when she used to stare at the audience for so long – in order to drum up applause – that you wondered if paralysis had set in. This time out, Jackson’s performance was economical and distilled for maximum emotional impact.
Even her entrance was dramatically understated. Instead of appearing amidst blasts of pyrotechnics and legions of dancers, Jackson was already on stage as soon as the curtain lifted. She stood confidently in front of an all-white backdrop on a platform that was at least 15 feet off of the ground.
From there, she raced through her battery of hits with a comfortable precision. The dance moves were as striking as always, but they seemed more relaxed and less mechanical. And even her voice, which was scratchy at times perhaps due to her recent illness, sounded warmer than usual.
Equally impressive was the set, which stood as a splendorous example of exquisite minimalism. Floor-length white screens rose and lowered, revealing images of her past videos, the audience, and her performance. Throughout the show, assorted flowers and spiraling lights were projected on the screens.
But most stunning was the Asian-influenced set for the still-rousing “Rhythm Nation.” The set featured giant translucent hanging lanterns and shimmering electronic signs with Chinese lettering. It was if someone transported you to a red light district in the middle of Chinatown.
And that it wasn’t the only aspect of the show that brought to mind red lights and general naughtiness. During the tingly ballad “Would You Mind,” from her latest album, Jackson, who was dressed in a skintight Catwoman-like black vinyl bodysuit, selected a guy from the audience to come on stage with her and proceeded to strap his arms and legs into an upright bondage device. She then climbed upon the device herself and assertively gave him the kind of dance that usually costs $20 a song. At the end of the number, the device tilted back into a fully reclined position, and Jackson and her newfound friend were slowly and suggestively lowered beneath the stage as flames were projected on the backing screens.
This frisky and fun bit only enhanced a show that was a consistently remarkable, considering how commandingly at-ease Jackson seemed to be. She doesn’t fight against her image like Madonna, who plays almost none of her early hits during this summer’s “Drowned World” tour. Rather, she attacks her classics with such vigor that the experience is less nostalgic than vitally in-the-moment. But most of all, by embracing her well-liked hits, Jackson does precisely what a superstar is supposed to do: She lets the crowd love her.