MILWAUKEE – Tito turned 48 Monday. La Toya mugged for a psychic hotline and Playboy. Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Randy, Marlon and Rebbie supported Michael at his recent five-hour tribute to … himself, thrown by Michael, currently residing on Planet Jacko, where monkeys and Emmanuel Lewis roam free.
That leaves Janet – or Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.
She’s the youngest Jackson, 35, a consistent hitmaker since before the Bangles walked like an Egyptian.
Through big-hair rock, grunge, rap and hip-hop, she’s maintained more than two dozen dance radio-friendly singles with a few ballads tossed in to give her a longevity comparable only to Whitney and Madonna. Yet she’s rarely regarded critically among those two.
In concert at the Bradley Center on Tuesday night, Janet sizzled but never reached the artistic heights that would rewrite diva music history. For nearly two hours, however, Janet grooved with the best of ’em. This was a butt-wiggling good time. She’s a super dancer and a good singer, although one wonders how much her sound crew fiddled with the latter to unleash the former.
Unlike Madonna’s recent tour or Whitney’s rare forays on the road, Janet concentrated on fun. That meant lots and lots of hits, past and present. With ticket prices for a majority of the seats nearing $80 each, it’s not a bad strategy.
Virtually every number, all 24 tunes, was performed with a production worthy of a Broadway encore. Her eight dancers were as important, probably more so, than her seven-person band almost hidden at the stage’s rear. Without losing momentum, Janet changed outfits – exotic rhinestone cowboy to playful tomboy — eight times. The choreography stayed sharp; something that lags among the current teen (male and female) tours.
At one point the stage filled with enough props and performers to resemble Cirque du Soleil crossed with “The Wiz” while Janet pranced through “Runaway,” “Miss You Much,” “When I Think of You” and “Escapade.”
Showcasing her current album, “All For You,” Janet ranged from the provocative title cut to the boyfriend-dissing “Son of a Gun,” which combines Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” with an updated funk beat. Simon appeared via video, creating a song with more snap than the show’s pyrotechnics.
Extending a setlist from the Reagan years to now, Janet – whose oft-exposed belly button should be insured – provided a laughable contrast. Her pro-abstinence ballad “Let’s Wait Awhile” was a marked contrasted from “Would You Mind,” which dissolved into a soft-porn number — with Janet, dressed in an all-black dominatrix outfit, atop a tied-up crowd member in a chair. (How I pity the many parents who brought kids along and tried to explain that on the way home.)
During a rare moment when she talked to the crowd of about 14,000, Janet spoke as softly as a shy youngster thrust in front of a strange audience. It’s no secret she owes her career to extraordinary producers and songwriters Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who have stuck with her since 1986’s breakthrough “Control.”
But Janet was no marionette Tuesday. She commanded the stage, although she never apologized for postponing last July’s Milwaukee concert a few hours before showtime due to “emergency dental surgery.”
On Tuesday, she had plenty of bite.