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Janet Jackson @ Save Mart Center, Fresno CA 09/24/17

This show was another one of those “big deals” for the Central Valley. A very big deal. Pop royalty was coming into town. Janet Jackson’s last visit to Fresno occurred during the 97/98 Velvet Rope Tour, 20 years ago. Fresno wasn’t originally on the touring itinerary for the 2015/2016 Unbreakable Tour. Fresno emerged as an added date following Janet’s cancellation of the original touring schedule so she could have her baby. The tour resumed with a new name, State of the World 2017, and Janet’s little one was now a tender 9 months old. This meant that showtime would be prompt and the closing notes of the night would be even more prompt, allowing for the superstar to immediately resume bonding and mommy duties following each gig. We actually felt a bit guilty coming to see her perform, you know, making the new mom sing and dance for us. We scored upper level first row seats in section 225, close to the stage (thank you, TM presale). We arrived about 30 minutes before printed show time. The lines at the entrance dragged to a snail’s pace. Thousands were still waiting to enter the venue as show time neared. We’ve been to several shows at Save Mart Center over the years, without issue, but for some reason the staff were not on it this night. From the Will Call window to the front doors, staff were inattentive or sparsely distributed. Regarding our line, as we got closer to the door, a supervisor emerged with her walkie and gave commands to the crowd to form additional lines: more yellow shirts had arrived. The pace didn’t improve. Despite the arrival of more event staff, we were stuck with the most uninterested, unconcerned, blasé staff person we’d ever encountered. The other lines moved at an efficient pace. Ours continued to painfully drag. Finally we made it into the venue and tried to grab some margaritas, only to be told as we got to the front that they ran out of margarita mix. Seriously!? So we said fuck it and went to go find our seats…only to find an older couple had taken them. A helpful usher (the only truly helpful staff of the evening) resolved the issue and the couple made their way up into the nose bleeds. We sat down, forgot about the minor mishaps and eagerly awaited the start of the show. I mean, it’s freaking Janet!!!

This tour has taken a serious tone. The theme is in keeping with and reflective of current events in the USA, especially regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and the deaths of men of color at the hands of law enforcement. A video montage opened the show reflecting such images, plus images and sound bites concerning domestic terrorism, alt-right extremism and white supremacy. It was a sobering video and in keeping with the themes of social justice in the Rhythm Nation album. And it was a fitting segue into the opening number “The Knowledge” off the same record. The track denounces unawareness and idiocy = “Prejudice: NO. Ignorance: NO. Bigotry: NO. Illiteracy: NO.” It thumped along while the crowd roared for Janet as she slowly and teasingly made here way across the stage. The song then immediately melted into “State of the World” off the same record. Janet was in awesome form. She was covered from neck to ankle for the majority of the performance, however she appeared fit and prepared for the tour, with that fiery, long pony tail splashing around like hot flames. I wouldn’t have guessed that she had a baby 9 months earlier. At 51 years of age, Janet still looked like a hot performer. She owned the house with her presence, prowled the stage like some kind of exotic jungle cat, blended into the dance routines, and used a mixture of prerecorded vocal tracks and live singing to flesh out her performance, a necessity due to the continuous physical activity happening onstage. I have to give it to Janet for filling the set to the gills with a mix of music from all her albums, even the newer stuff. We were practically spoiled with 35 songs either played in full or as interpolations and medleys. Songs from the last six records were well represented, with several tracks from Unbreakable, Janet, Damita Jo, Discipline, All For You and Velvet Rope (ok, so 20 Y.O. is the exception). Even some non-singles were performed and some other tracks that hadn’t been dusted off since the tours for those respective albums. There was a ton of value and variety to this set. This was not an oldies show or a nostalgia act. Janet wasn’t afraid to showcase the newest material and she wasn’t afraid to reach back into her history. What really got the place hot were the mega medleys including material from Control and Rhythm Nation 1814. For myself and my wife, we have a special place in our hearts for that classic material. And thankfully, it was done right! On past tours like the Velvet Rope Tour, the musicians used live instruments. They were the same songs however they lacked the authentic sounds and patches from the studio originals. During the VR tour for example, the drums were live with no triggered samples or electronic elements. They were real drums, which usually isn’t a bad thing. Same deal with the bass guitar: It was expertly played by a very capable funk/R&B player, however it sounded like a live bass guitar – not like the boomy, synthy goodness on the original recordings. Thankfully for this tour, those OG elements were back. The synths, drums and bass sounded just as they should, as they were recorded during the Control and Rhythm Nation sessions. The songs weren’t the same without that unmistakable Minneapolis Sound. To those who might not be familiar with the term Minneapolis Sound, it’s the sound and production made famous by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who were originally members of Morris Day’s group, The Time. In the early 80s, they took elements like funk, soul, r&b, and married it with the electronic sounds of New Wave, making for a sleek, romantic sounding and stylish subgenre. Prince and The Revolution’s early records had that sound, as did records by The Time, Sheila E., The Jets, Ready For the World and for a brief moment, The Human League (Just listen to Jungle Love, Love Bizarre, Crush On You, Oh Sheila, and Human, back to back. You’ll hear what I mean).

It was a very good show overflowing with musical variety. Janet employed a diverse group of dancers of all shapes and sizes. The routines were non stop, as one song melted into another. An amateur could get whiplash at that kind of pace. The band rolled through the material with ease and without any clams. I greatly appreciated the low end, with the synth bass and electronic kick drum setting the funky mood. But despite the funky and joyous celebration that was taking place, Janet appeared reserved. She wasn’t chatty with the audience. There were moments where she looked disengaged, she looked like she’d rather be elsewhere. At one point during the set she said exactly that, she’d rather be with her little one. The concert was very well paced, uptempo and sultry with a few breathers mixed in. We’re very thankful we got to see one of the greats live and on home turf. We can proudly say that we got to experience Prince and now Janet. If only Michael were still here.

  • Opening Video
  • The Knowledge
  • State of the World
  • Nasty/Feedback/Miss You Much/Alright/You Want This
  • Control/What Have You Done For Me Lately/Pleasure Principle
  • Escapade/When I Think Of You/All For You
  • All Night
  • Love Will Never Do Without You
  • Interlude Mix (elements of So Excited/Feel It Boy/Enjoy/Go Deep/Together Again)
  • Again (video interlude, piano only and audience singing)
  • Twenty Foreplay
  • Where Are You Now/Come Back To Me/The Body That Loves You
  • Spending Time With You
  • No Sleep
  • Got Til It’s Gone
  • That’s the Way Love Goes
  • Island Life
  • Throb
  • Together Again
  • What About
  • If
  • Rhythm Nation
  • Black Eagle
  • New Agenda
  • Dammn Baby/I Get Lonely
  • Well Traveled