- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 4, 2007

Eighteen thousand screeching fans — mostly svelte young females looking like models in a giant Wet Seal fashion show — flooded the Verizon Center Friday night to see the most eligible bachelor of the moment: Justin Timberlake.

Based on the frenzied masses alone, it is difficult to fathom that the last time the Memphis-born crooner rolled through town (in August), he played the intimate 9:30 Club. Were he to attempt such a feat today, there would probably be a riot. The last six months, you see, have been good to him.

In September, Mr. Timberlake “brought sexy back” with his sophomore album, “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” which debuted at No. 1 and subsequently earned several Grammy nods. In December, he rocked “Saturday Night Live’s” world — well, R&B-ed; it, to be exact — and in January the former Mouseketeer added “Hollywood actor” to his credits with a noteworthy role in “Alpha Dog” (which he follows up later this month with an appearance in “Black Snake Moan”). He’s also gotten heaps of free press lately, thanks to his breakup with Cameron Diaz and subsequent sightings with various starlets.

Donning a tony three-piece suit, the performer spent nearly two hours traversing every square inch of the elaborate circular stage and most of his musical territory — from ‘NSync’s ballad “Gone” to “Senorita” from his “Justified” album to his latest single, “What Goes Around.” He even tossed in a go-go-fied riff on “SexyBack” that would’ve had D.C. go-go legend Chuck Brown dancing in the aisles.

Mr. Timberlake flexed his “almighty” falsetto (capable of liquefying women in a single melisma), hopped on a few instruments (piano and guitar), and rarely stopped moving. He re-enacted his popular “My Love” music video choreography, executed precise yet improvised “popping,” and even got a little randy with some of his fellow performers.

He was a radiant orb around which everything rotated — including the 14 backing musicians and 10 dancers, mega-producer-slash-emcee Timbaland, the sea of audience members, and even the stage’s translucent scrims-cum-movie-screens.

But there were moments when the singer wobbled on his axis. For example, his rather trite message song, “Losing My Way,” and crunk-gone-awry ditty, “Chop Me Up,” felt no less forced in the live context than they do on the album. And his solemn “toast” to the disabled soldiers he’d visited on Thursday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (an experience that “changed my life,” he said) was little more than a quickly chugged shot and a little less than soberingly reverential. In fact, it was a little tacky.

It seemed as if he were trying to frenetically one-up rather than find a place among pop’s brightest talents, whose legacies have not only influenced but made his career possible. He may be able to dance like Janet, entertain like Madonna, and coo like Michael, and he’s certainly got some bumping tracks, but he’s not a musical genius like Prince.

His fans don’t care a lick about any of this. They were too busy holding their cell phones up, trying to capture a bit of the star’s glimmer so that they could take sexy back home with them.

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