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Velvet Rope Concert Reviews

Ottawa, ON - Corel Centre
OTTAWA - After watching Janet and her very scantily-clad dancers act out explicit pseudo-bondage fantasy all over the stage last night I guess I'll have to call her Ms. Jackson -- 'cause I'm feeling a little nasty.
Having left behind her ''Michael's little sister'' moniker about 25 million albums ago, the 32-year-old Jackson brought her Velvet Rope tour to the 10'000 in attendance at the Corel Centre.
During the first segment of the show, her stage set up was minimalist -- featuring a giant velvet curtain, rope and disco ball -- which was perfect because it allowed Jackson and her phenomenal dancers more room to strut their stuff.
Jackson impressively resisted the temptation to use her dancers as mere bacldrop. Instead, during classic dance numbers like If, Nasty, or What Have You Done For Me Lately? she danced right along with them, barely missing a line.
And when she slowed it down to catch her breath for ballads like the new song Every Time, her velvety vocals flowed freely.
Then the curtain closed and when it re-opened all thoughts of minimalism were forgotten. The stage was now cluttered with oversized clocks, books and a grinning moon. Jesters and clowns hopped, swirled and bounced around Jackson as she belted out old favourites like Miss You Much and When I Think Of You in front of giant sparklers.
But the childlike theme was quickly replaced when Jackson began acting out her new album's journey into hybersexuality -- the title Velvet Rope refers not just to the favourite means of separating the cool from the unwashed at nightclubs but also to certain slightly kinky sexual practices.
The woman that performed an elongated strip tease in front of an extremely happy male audience member -- who was brought on stage and quickly tied up -- is a far cry from her days as Willis' girlfriend on Different Strokes.
Jackson may have recently cultivated a slightly silly media image as a possibly bisexual, body-pierced dominatrix wielding a wicked Joni Mitchel sample. But aside from the bondage number, it was kept relatively low key in favour of sheer dance spectacle.
And her new music, while certainly more sophisticated (if not always better), mixed well with hits from previous albums like Control, Rhythm Nation, and Janet.
And it's always a good singn when a post-greatest hits artist is able to produce a song as good as her encore number Got 'Til It's Gone -- a slice of hip-hop influenced soul so velvety smooth that Joni Mitchel's sampled vocals in the chorus don't seem at all out of place.
* * *
To the creepy strains of Darth Vader's theme, teen heartthrob Usher emerged from a Han Solo-style faux carbon freezing chamber. The girls screamed. He did a few pelvic thrusts. The girls screamed. He did some funky dance moves with his crack troupe of wicked awesome breakdancers. Well, you can guess the reaction.
The 19-year-old Usher's association with three of R&B's hottest producers -- Teddy Riley, Babyface, and Jermaine Dupri -- helped propel his second release My Way into the big time, selling over four million copies on the strength of chart hits like You Make Me Wanna ... and Nice and Slow.
In between costume changes, Usher performed slightly better than average post-New Jack Swing R&B -- basically soulful vocals about sex over hip-hop breakbeats.
But midway through his set Usher made a tragic mistake. He performed a medley of old school Bobby Brown tunes and revealed that the New Jack founder simply had better material than his musical heir.
Which isn't to say that Usher wasn't good -- his voice is really quite amazing -- but his songs all sound suspiciously similar and he relied too heaily on his bare chest to spark crowd reaction.
Maybe he needs a new prerogative.
Toronto, ON - Toronto Skydome
Toronto - It was a slight case of northern exposure last night at the SkyDome as Janet Jackson put ona nicely naughty, spectacle-like show before 19'000 fans.
But there was a message too -- actually several of them -- behind all of Jackson's skin-baring costumes, energetic dancing, elaborate set pieces, slick lighting and exploding pyrotechnics.
Particularly during new songs like What About, a raging number against domestic violence featuring four of Jackson's dancers acting out not-so-pleasant scenarios on stage and the set-ending Special, an anthem about the importance of self-confidence during which old photos of Jackson were projected onto a large video screen.
(Interestingly, the picture of Jackson with famous brother Michael drew the most applause.)
Also poignant and joyous at the same time was the show-ending Together Again, Jackson's tribute to those friends who have died from AIDS.
Truth be told, the dance pop diva's mere presence seemed to thrill the near-capacity crowd, who were on their feet and chanting "Janet! Janet!" before she even sang a note.
When the video screen split in two at the beginning of the two-hour show to reveal her standing on stage in a black top hat, tails and striped black-and-white vest, the audience basically went nuts.
Their enthusiam was also evident during Rope Burn, the now infamous number from Jackson's latest album, The Velvet Rope, due in no small part to the secy live interpretation.
In what has now become the centerpiece of the show, Jackson -- in a black bra and midriff-exposing red boa jacket -- pulled an extremely excited male out of the crowd and tied his arms to a chair on stage.
As he alternately shook his body and nodded his approval, Jackson and two of her barely dressed female dancers twirled around on poles in front of him before Jackson finally came closer and planted a big kiss on his lips.
Meanwhile, a lot of Jackson's older hits, like Control, What Have You Done For Me Lately, When I Think of You, and Miss You Much, were presented via two medleys.
Not to say that they weren't given proper attention. On the contrary.
The second medley in particular was performed on a wonderfully colorful, eye-popping Alice In Wonderland-like set that was brought to life by Jackson and her dance troupe wearing bright costumes and perched on various inflatables.
Aside from some rather garish orange extensions in her long hair, it's safe to say that Jackson's tightly choreographed performance was the same singing and dancing extravaganza I witnessed earlier in the tour in Vancouver.
Like that show, Jackson's funky nine-member dance troupe were her constant companions (usually in a formation of eight) and when they weren't, the action ground to a halt.
Unfortunately, a two-song set that saw Jackson on a stool alongside an acoustic guitar while she sang Let's Wait Awhile and Again didn't serve much of purpose other than allowing the singer to catch her breath.
In the meantime, it -- along with a section featuring extended solos from her otherwise tight six-person band -- dragged down the evening.
Still, the crowd was especially jazzed given Jackson had arrived in town earlier in the week to appear on MuchMusic's Intimate & Interactive Monday night.