Fans arrived early Saturday night for the opening show of the 75th anniversary season at the Santa Barbara Bowl. A diverse crowd of hard-core Janet Jackson fans, mixed with a curious group of concert aficionados, filled the amphitheater in anticipation of one of the biggest shows in the venue’s history.
Most patrons had found their seats by the 7 p.m. official start time but ended up waiting politely and patiently for another hour as the unnamed opening act canceled at the last minute. By the time the pop diva appeared onstage just after 8 p.m., anticipation gave way to euphoria for many in the crowd who exploded in adulation.
Jackson, appearing larger than life, immediately launched into her promised set of nothing but No. 1 hit songs and had the crowd singing, dancing and swaying from the first moment.
The show, billed as “Janet Jackson Number Ones: Up Close and Personal Tour,” was the brainchild of Jackson as sort of a gift to her fanatic fans. The venues are much smaller on this new world tour than Jackson is accustomed to playing, but the show presented at the Bowl on Saturday night seemed scaled more toward an arena event, with all the bells and whistles intact.
A giant media screen and two video projectors provided an onslaught of images. A massive, multilevel stage, dramatically lit with the latest array of LED technology, provided a huge playground for the energetic singer to flaunt her impressive singing and dancing talents. Surrounded by an army of accomplished musicians and dancers, the live music spectacle was about as big as it gets in the pop world.
Midway through the show, the band was allowed to showcase their talents in an extended rock jam. Then Jackson returned for a few intimate songs sitting on the edge of the stage. Among Jackson’s No. 1 hit picks for the night, she played a special song just for her Santa Barbara audience, “Doesn’t Really Matter.”
Another emotional moment came when she did a duet via video with the King of Pop himself and her brother, Michael Jackson. Unlike a mime performance by pop star Britney Spears, Jackson proved to be a consummate performer. Her strong and distinctive voice, sophisticated dance routines, constant impish banter with fans in the audience and the performers onstage around her highlighted her mercurial abilities as an entertainer.
The 80-minute set was far too short for fans and skeptics alike. The short set was even more frustrating with several pauses for multimedia presentations eating up precious time with the pop diva.
The end came surprisingly early with a full 20 minutes left before the Santa Barbara Bowl curfew hour. But the plunging temperatures in the outdoor amphitheater on an unseasonably cold night might have kept frenzied fans from screaming for another encore.
As short as the show was, the faithful were thankful for the few precious minutes they got to share with their musical idol. The singer could have sang all 35 of her songs from her Number Ones album and the hard-core fans still would have been salivating for more.