Timberlake concert

Wade Tatangelo reviews JT at the Forum

Right from the get-go, he made the girls squeal and basically just ran shit like a smooth criminal in front of 18,000-plus rabid fans. Impressive. "Break it down!" Justin Timberlake hollered over a quick-moving series of thudding beats. The song — a slinky club banger called "My Love" — then slowed, got draped in strings. JT went romantic, revved up the falsetto, strutted to the lip of the stage and made eye contact with the chosen few holding front row seats.

"Drop that shit, right!" he declared. A flurry of decadent rave beats followed. Shadows and lights that blinked, flashed and shimmered to the music filled the St. Pete Times Forum. The boy-bander turned post-millennium pop royal dismissed the sexy lady dancing with him to knock out another series of fluid dance moves learned from a childhood spent studying Michael Jackson. A guitarist then unleashed a searing solo, one of several that gave JT's performance a gritty rock edge not heard on his studio recordings.

Timberlake played Thursday in Tampa before a multiracial crowd that ranged from prepubescent girls to baby boomers. And he kicked ass, save for the lame, wind-chime-laced ballads that recalled his *NSYNC days and dampened an otherwise tight second set.

Lights went down at 8:45 p.m. Translucent curtains covered the sprawling, circular stage at the center of the arena. A computerized voice announced: "Future. Sex. Love. Sounds." Timberlake, sporting a sleek, silver suit and white shoes, sang a verse from behind the gauzy façade. Applause rattled the cavernous room. His bedroom vocals soared as he stepped into the spotlight. A laser light show accompanied his image on the conic screens above the three rings that constituted the stage.

JT was the undisputed ringleader, whether in dance mode, wielding a guitar (like a prop) or plopped down behind a piano on a rotating platform. Male and female dancers struck choreographed poses around him. It was a pop spectacle that would've made Prince proud, and the crowd couldn't get enough, judging by the Beatles-at-Shea histrionics.

Timberlake seemed determined (or maybe he's just that well trained) to win over even the skeptics that might still cling to his '90s, teen image. The fact that his old *NSYNC mate Joey Fatone was in the crowd might've been added incentive.

Songs from last year's FutureSex/LoveSounds disc overshadowed stuff from his '02 solo debut Justified, some of which fell a little flat. The one-two punch of "Love Stoned" and "SexyBack" would've been an apropos send-off.

But wait. An encore. JT at the 88s, doing his "favorite part of the show." Following a sincere-sounding but rather long-winded gratitude speech, he delivered another banally arranged ballad. He could've exited with a walk off homerun ("SexyBack"), but he returned to the plate and hit a blooper. Bad move, man.

Pink — one of the today's more interesting pop stars — started the night with a lil' sex-love of her own. The feisty blonde wore a black ensemble that included a cleavage-revealing top, short, poofy skirt and knee-high boots. She looked punk chic and had no problem eliciting cheers from a crowd that poured in while she performed. She slinked around on her knees, jogged in place, and sprinted from one end of the stage to the other. A master of quasi-feminist anthems cloaked in raucous beats, Pink delighted audience members with hits like "Don't Let Me Get Me," which featured a glamorous guitar solo straight out of 1987.

The chugga-chugga favorite "Let's Get the Party Started" quoted "Sweet Dreams" and closed the set — but not before Pink got all acrobatic with a pair of Suicide Girl types and ascended high above of the stage on a long piece of cloth that matched her name.

Super producer Timbaland DJ'ed during a break between Timberlake's two sets, repeatedly shouting, "Tampa make some noise." It was during this segment that an image of Michael Jackson circa 1982 flashed on the screen, just in case anyone didn't pick up on who JT's replacing.

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