Chicago Sun-Times
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Janet Jackson returns to the stage with a musical reminder of her superstar status

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Ladies and gentlemen, Janet Jackson. Janet, this is your adoring public. You remember each other, right?

The clear purpose of Ms. Jackson's current Up Close and Personal World Tour, which launched its U.S. leg just last Friday in Houston and opened a three-night stand Monday at the Chicago Theatre, is to reacquaint loyal fans with the star who was first introduced to us as "Michael's kid sister." A carefully choreographed show, from the familiar dancing to the hit-or-hit set list, Jackson's tour attempts to cram in more than 30 No. 1 songs -- several of them unfortunately breezed through in medleys -- and add them up to a total that once again equals international mega-star.

JANET JACKSON
RECOMMENDED
7:30 p.m. March 8-9
Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State
Tickets: $50-$200, (800) 745-3000, ticketmaster.com

After several efforts at reinvention, Jackson certainly deserves this reintroduction. Since 2004's Super Bowl, mentions of her name in all media have been inseparable from the phrase she helped coin: "wardrobe malfunction." In 2009, she lost her brother in a questionable death that's still under investigation. With Michael gone, Janet is now the most prominent entertainer in the Jackson clan.

After Michael died, Janet slipped out the greatest-hits compilation "Number Ones," on which this belated tour is based. But musically, what else has she done for us lately? So the Up Close tour -- which lives up to its name, presenting this arena icon in a space as intimate as the Chicago Theatre (she was last here at the Allstate Arena in 2008) -- is a wake-up call to all she's done before. Now finally back on the road, she's out to shake off some bad mojo and freshen things up. She's trying to say hello again.

Which she does by opening the show in 1986, with a medley of electric funk cuts from her breakthrough record, "Control." "The Pleasure Principle" and "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" on through "Nasty" and "Rhythm Nation" -- it's a quick glance back at when she was still fresh-faced and prying herself from roles on "Good Times" and "Diff'rent Strokes" (both of which we see during extended, costume-changing breaks). She is, of course, no longer an innocent girl, as she declares by appearing on stage in a scythe-edged short haircut and futuristic, skin-tight gray catsuit. (A trending topic on Twitter on Monday was #bootyappreciationday. Fitting, so to speak.)

For the rest of the show, Janet dances (with six dancers), Janet sings (with an eight-piece band), each with wavering levels of intensity, through hit after hit, including "All for You" (her dedication to Chicago) and a brief but fierce tribute to Michael during "Scream." After the opening blast, she returns for the Diana Ross segment of the show, downshifting into a pink gown and a set of ballads, some of which (especially "Come Back to Me") are so light and breathy they're hardly even there.

Most of this concert, though, is propulsive. The Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis beats hold up all these years later, and most of the show is about moving, about Janet squeezing into this new environment. The house lights are up during much of the show. When Janet catches a breath between big-shouldered, stadium-sized dance moves, she sees the smiling faces up close and smiles herself. During "Control," she saw the crowded theater for the first time and looked so surprised she almost lost control. That's a refreshing side of Janet to catch a glimpse of, especially this up close.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on March 7, 2011 11:18 PM.

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