If you dive deep enough into the abyss of YouTube, you could hear me sing. Not that I recommend it, but you probably could. You’d need to find video from a show I was really excited about, from an artist I really love. And if you click in to a video from that show (because you know someone always records every song…) you can surely hear me singing along to every word of the songs. I’m not unique in this behavior. People sing at shows, and I’m not judging anyone for that.
Next at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion
What: Modest Mouse
When: 7:30 p.m. July 19
Where: Arkansas Music Pavilion, Rogers
Cost: Remaining seats start at $39.50
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or visit arkansasmusicpavilion.com for information.
But I can’t say that I recall that in my years of concert going that I’ve ever seen people recall the dances quite so perfectly and enthusiastically as I witnessed July 13 at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion. That’s where Janet Jackson and a large supporting cast put on an explosion of pop music and movement. I was struck by one young man near me. He was young enough that perhaps he wasn’t even born yet in 1989, when the song was first released. That didn’t matter. Every arm thrust, kick step, knee slap, he had it.
You need to know all of this to understand the kind of show that Jackson offered to a full (or very nearly full) house on a hot summer night in Rogers. In so many ways, she’s more of a visual artist and dance captain than she is a vocalist. That’s not to downplay her vocal abilities. But her voice doesn’t outrank her other skills.
As a three-way threat of dancer, conceptual artist and vocalist, Jackson, now 52 years old, is not regressing. And we need to understand that this show was a big get for our area. Jackson has been performing in arenas in the past two years, including a 2016 stop at Verizon Arena in Little Rock. The tour continues to play major markets and large amphitheaters and arenas. And she has the material and stature to warrant that kind of attention. If you count individual tracks from the medleys she offered early in the night, Jackson squeezed in nearly 40 different songs into her two-hour set.
“It’s a lot of hits, huh?” she quipped in a brief respite between songs. Yes, Ms. Jackson. It was a lot of hits.
But as previously stated, the hits don’t fully encompass what Jackson and her crew of a full band and eight onstage dancers set out to accomplish. Jackson didn’t speak to any one topic. But she let video clips and soundbites do some of that for her. She came out as names of those I assume to be black men killed by violence were shown on big video panels, followed by the words “We Want Justice.” I say ‘assumed’ because the sunlight’s contrast made it hard to read individual names on the screen, and Jackson didn’t address the matter any further. She later took a moment to honor her father, Joe Jackson, who passed away less than three weeks ago. During the song “Together Again,” Jackson pointed to the sky as video clips of her late father played on large video screens. Almost immediately after, the video board switched to scenes of a bloodied Jackson, which led into her track “What About,” a song about domestic abuse. The timing was provocative, as were many elements of the concert.
The video boards also provided Jackson with de facto guest artists. She used the tactic to evoke her late brother, Michael Jackson, during the song “Scream.” That pairing drew an appropriately loud scream from the audience.
The crowd also screamed heartily for each dance breakdown, and there were plenty. Many modern pop acts don’t take the time to make band introductions, but Jackson did, and went beyond. She introduced each of her dancers by name, and each got a moment in the spotlight. They deserved it. Jackson and each of the dancers worked hard on a hot night. I got warm walking five blocks to the farmers’ market in the heat this morning. Jackson and her crew spent most of two hours dancing aggressively. Everything in the show was intensely choreographed and arranged, down to every snap of Jackson’s fingers. There were no moments that weren’t carefully planned. Ms. Jackson knows what she’s doing at all times.
The entire show was a nonstop arrangement of songs and movement and sexuality. Two hours felt like 45 minutes. There wasn’t time for grand pronouncements or set changes. About the only break Jackson gave herself were three interludes during which her touring DJ – DJ Aktive – took over. And she also took a few brief pauses to stare into the crowd and wait for affection. It was quickly provided to her.
The Walmart AMP booked a superstar for Friday night. And Jackson delivered the kind of marquee extravaganza that we always hope to see at our largest music venue.