At some point in everyone’s life they should go see a pop concert. After countless years of rock shows, that night finally came for me last night at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City when Janet Jackson stopped at the Etess Arena for a performance on her current “State of The World” tour.
The reason I say everyone should see a pop concert is that if you have only been to concerts where the main focus is four or five guys playing instruments, you have seen but one definition of what a “show” can be.
Let’s start from the beginning —
Janet Jackson: State of the World Tour at Hard Rock
Music icon Janet Jackson performed a high-energy show at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. The concert contained many of her biggest hits, as well as non-stop dance routines.
— Photos by Pamela Dollak
Instead of an old school opening act, Jackson had a DJ onstage spinning. Apparently this is common at pop shows, but it was new to me. And much to my surprise, the crowd was in full party mode, dancing in the aisles before the lights even went down. This audience came to have a good time, and from everything I witnessed, most did.
Over the course of the 90-minute show, Jackson kept her band in the background while a team of dancers joined her downstage. Though the band had strong musical chops, they were clearly not meant to be the main focus of anything. Backing tracks and phantom vocals were drizzled throughout the soundscape, and while Janet was clearly singing along, one can be certain that this show was as much made in the studio as it was on the stage.
But maybe that doesn’t matter. Again I needed to remind myself that this was not a Pearl Jam concert. There were no awkward pauses for tuning up or impromptu speeches, no smashing of guitars or rock god posturing. This was closer to theater in many respects and for what it was, it ran like a well-oiled machine. The lighting was complex and exciting, the constant visuals from the screens fit well and the dancers were particularly impressive — each sharing the spotlight with Jackson at various points and dropping bits of their own personalities into the performance. Make no mistake, Jackson herself still can move too, and got a noticeable rise out of the crowd at one point by performing a rather Michael-esque dance step. One can’t help but be blown away by the stamina it must take to put on a show like this. Shoegaze it was not.
Janet’s onstage demeanor was focused and confident. She seemed to battle with her microphone/headset at several points, but instead of going into diva mode and throwing the device across the stage, she pressed on. And though she would hardly be described as being chatty with the crowd, she did manage to throw out the obligatory praise for the city she was performing in along with a few other pleasantries. Those expecting costume changes were likely unimpressed as Jackson kept the same high-waisted black pants and top on throughout the evening. Perhaps the most fun visual of the night were the endless gusts of seemingly inescapable wind which seemed to follow Ms. Jackson no matter where she went onstage, each blast blowing her hair to dizzying heights.
The setlist was a mix of old and new, employing extensive use of the aforementioned video screens that projected everything from a series of socially conscious messages to some of Jackson’s old ’80s and ’90s videos. “Together Again” went the sentimental route, including a slideshow of pictures of Jackson and her father Joseph, who passed away in June. Jackson was at her strongest on crowd favorites such as “Doesn’t Really Matter” and “Rhythm Nation,” as well as during “What About,” which featured the dancers acting out elements of physical and emotional abuse punching shoving and flailing, which matched the songs theme.
But one real detractor of the night was the repeated use of medleys, which all but spoiled some of the biggest hits from the early part of her career. “Control” was forced to share a bed with “When I Think of You” and “The Pleasure Principal,” while softer hits like “Come Back to Me” and “Let’s Wait Awhile” were reduced to instrumental Siamese twins (Jackson wasn’t even onstage for the latter two). Sadly, the first few chords of each of these tracks got some of the biggest cheers of the night. It was a shame to see the disappointment on the faces in the crowd as each one was truncated.
To be fair, Jackson is certainly not the only artist to pull this move, as everyone from Britney Spears to your local wedding DJ seems to feel the need to constantly fade into a new song at around the one-minute mark. But hip or not, this ADD-esque trend is really one that needs to be taken out behind the barn and shot. Janet recorded some great hits and we should be able to hear them in their entirety. Nothing is more frustrating than getting into a song only to have it ripped from your hands after the chorus.
Medley issues aside, Jackson kept the packed crowd at the Etess Arena singing, dancing and cheering all night. Walking out of the arena, I couldn’t help but overhear throngs of people all talking about what a great night they had. And that is pretty much the goal of every performer, rock pop or otherwise.