LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - If you were a Janet Jackson fan at Staples Center on Wednesday who wanted synchronized robotic choreography with dancers, you got it, again and again.
If you wanted hits, there were plenty, albeit many of them in teasingly truncated versions.
But what you didn’t get much of was a true connection from the heart.
The singer’s Rock Witchu tour is her first in seven years, overloaded with blinding dazzle, pyrotechnics and gaudy style over substance. The myriad production numbers were reminiscent of a poor Vegas revue and emotionally distant, the band and backup singers bolstering her vocals hidden away, leaving one to wonder if some — or most — of it was prerecorded.
When Jackson ascended to stardom in the mid-‘80s, she managed to balance the mechanized dance moves with a sense of empowerment in such hits as “Control,” “What Have You Done for Me Lately” and the unity anthem “Rhythm Nation.” But any possible messages were a mere afterthought during Wednesday night’s show.
Yes, she played those hits and numerous others, wearing an array of outfits that ranged from science fiction tacky-wacky to a red princess-at-the ball evening gown for a tedious run of bland ballads.
Her finest moment came midway through the two-hour show with a joyous “Together Again.” She smiled and bounced at the top of the U-shaped catwalk that reached the center of arena, and with the house lights partially up, the audience bounced along with her. She was equally playful for snippets of “Escapade” and “When I Think of You.”
A short segment featuring her presuperstar days of R&B songs including “Young Love” and “Say You Do” seemed to liberate her from the trappings of the Big Show, which is ironic, since that was the material she once rebelled against.
Throughout the night she mixed in material from her latest album “Discipline,” including the pandering title track, which came complete with S&M shtick as a fan was pulled up from the crowd for some friendly abuse.
But while the new songs may fit into today’s pop landscape, they are far less commanding, like the sleazy grind of “So Much Betta,” which was followed by the don’t-even-think-about-it attitude of the old stamp, “Nasty.”
Some passages were just dull or awkward, especially video duets with Q-Tip on “Got ‘Til It’s Gone” (sampling and invoking Joni Mitchell) and “Call on Me” with Nelly (sampling the S.O.S. Band).
Fantasy video vignettes, which pitted evil Janet over good Janet in a battle for the musical force, were pretentious claptrap, only serving to kill time between those many costume changes.
Going at it old school with just two DJs, opener LL Cool J got by though sheer force of personality, constantly relying on the usual wave your hands, shout-backs and calls for screams to work the crowd, finally summoning real power for “Mama Said Knock You Out.”