TORONTO — What happens when a singer with the best-selling album of this year and a rapper with the current No. 1 album join forces to co-headline a North American stadium tour? The results are, as they say (wait for it), legendary.
The event: Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z kicked off their Legends of the Summer outing Wednesday night, drawing heavily on past hits and their newest releases, The 20/20 Experience and Magna Carta Holy Grail respectively.
The venue: Rogers Centre
While most fans outside the Rogers Centre are of the younger variety, Dev Tewari, 45, knows he’s one of Jay-Z’s older fans. Clad in an Eminem concert T-shirt he got in Montreal in 2011, Tewari isn’t bothered by the age difference. “I’m young at heart,” he says with a laugh.
Custom tees: Two die-hard Jay-Z fans stayed up until 2 a.m. the night before making iron-on T-shirts. Nick Sue, 28, is wearing a homemade shirt featuring 11 of Jay-Z’s albums (he left off The Dynasty: Roc La Familia because it didn’t meld aesthetically). His friend Theresa Pacariem, 27, chose a black and white image of the rapper peering through his diamond-shaped hands to iron onto her white tank top because she wanted a photo of Jay-Z holding up the Roc Nation sign.
I dream of Drizzy: Darcy MacNeil, 32, says she’s hoping hometown rapper Drake makes an appearance. (She “stalks” him on Instagram and noticed he’s in Toronto.) Also revealed via Instagram, Beyonce was spotted with husband Jay-Z and daughter Blue Ivy dining at Cafe Nervosa earlier in the day in Toronto’s swank Yorkville neighborhood. Unfortunately, there was no surprise performance by Mrs. Carter: She played a show in Chicago the same night.
Blame Canada: Juhi Arora, 18, saved up money from her job to treat Ikhtiar Rashid, 18, to floor seats for his birthday. Neither are quite sure why the tour is kicking off in Toronto. “I figured it’d be Memphis where Justin is from, or New York or L.A.,” says Rashid. “But I’m not complaining.” Little do they know there’s actually a good reason why Toronto got first dibs on the show: It’s a dirty little industry secret that musicians prefer to kick off high-profile tours in Canada — Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, specifically — to work out any glitches before heading stateside.
The merchandise: The color scheme of the official tour clothing is black, white and red. T-shirts sell for $40-$45. The black booty shorts that read “Sexy back” on the behind are a big seller, along with the red or white Justin T-back tanks, which feature the singer prominently on the front.
Crowd warm-up: DJ Cassidy spins old-school jams like Lionel Richie’s All Night Long and Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough as a sweltering crowd claps and chants along.
Red-light district: The massive stage is bathed in red as the show begins, with the entire band also wearing the color of love. Huge rectangles of descending size add depth to the stage while also providing plenty of screens to project images and video on.
The start: The band takes to a multi-tiered stage and the opening notes of Holy Grail play as Justin appears on the left side of the stage. Black-and-white images inspired by the album cover’s Alpheus and Arethusa sculpture are projected on the screen. “Toronto, sing it along with me,” Timberlake yells during the verse.
Multi-level play: The 14-piece band and four backup singers perform on four tiers of platforms.
Warm welcome: “Wassup!” Jay-Z says. “We came to party with all, you ready to party? Let’s go!” And with that he launches into I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me).
Guitar god: JT appears playing the guitar for Like I Love You as giant scaly snakes are projected as if wrapping themselves around the stage.
All hail the female body: Timberlake raises his hands to conduct the crowd through My Love while extreme closeups of the female form pop on and off the two huge video screens. He takes time during the chorus to show off a few bounce-and-leg-drag dance moves.
Love is in the air: Justin exits as Jay-Z celebrates the opposite of traditional love with Big Pimpin’. He’s shed his white button-down already and is clad in all black (black T-shirt, black jeans, black Brooklyn Nets cap), but still wears his gold Roc-A-Fella chain.
Back and forth: After opening the show together, the duo has found a new rhythm with one performing alone for a song or two and then handing it off to another. It keeps the beginning of the show moving at a frantic pace and is a testament to their deep catalog of hits.
Best sidekick around: Jay-Z lauches into a solo set starting with Jigga What, Jigga Who but Timberlake isn’t far away, playing guitar and singing hooks for the rapper.
Crank it: Jay-Z assesses the crowd level. “I feel like it’s a 7. We can’t be at a 7. It’s the start of the tour.” The crowd begins to yell louder and squeal increasingly as Jay-Z asks them to take it up to a 10, then a 20, then 50. Finally, he says, “We have to turn it up, turn it all the way up to 99.” He quickly launches into 99 Problems. Massive explosions burst all over the screens and he eventually segues into the Aerosmith/Run-D.M.C. hit Walk This Way.
Life + Times of S. Carter: Jay-Z is clearly flying high off Wednesday’s news that Magna Carta Holy Grail is his 13th No. 1 album in Billboard. Plus, he yells to the crowd, “I’ve got the No. 1 album in Canada!”
On to the next one: Jay-Z caps off a longer set which includes his verse from Kanye West’s Clique, Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) and Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love) before handing things off to Timberlake.
Triple the love: The stage is transformed into a black-and-white art deco look as JT slows things down to pay homage to the L-word, which has likely taken more meaning since his wedding to Jessica Biel. He starts with Pusher Love Girl, then moves into Summer Love and keeps the theme going with LoveStoned/I Think She Knows Interlude.
Light footwork: “I want to see you dancing on this one,” says JT as the percussive drums of Let the Groove Get In fill the stadium. Sorely missing on this tour are his fantastic dancers, but the backup singers pull double-duty as they’re called to the front of the stage to two-step with their boss.
Up next, part 2: “Can I do something new?,” Timberlake calls out to the crowd, which yells “Yes!” in unison. “Like brand-spanking new? Like baby-butt-spanking new?” Convinced the crowd is wanting this, he starts with his just-released Take Back the Night, which will appear on The 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2. The energy dips as many of his fans are still unfamiliar with the track.
Real men cry: The waterworks start to flow, figuratively at least, when Jay-Z appears bathed in a red spotlight for an emotional rendition of Song Cry. As he leaves, Timberlake continues with the themes of breakups and infidelity, with his Timbaland-produced hit Cry Me a River. The crowd immediately jumps to its feet and sings along to every word. There are abstract raindrops and dramatic visuals of water splashing on the screens.
Rewind that back: When the reception to the first notes of Tom Ford fails to ignite the crowd to his liking, Jay-Z cuts off the music to ask: “I thought Magna Carta was the No. 1 album in Canada?” Once the crowd promises to up their game, he has the track taken back to the beginning, and the crowd bounces with renewed energy.
Ode to the Big Apple: JT appears in a spotlight wearing a short-sleeved black button-down over a black tee to channel Frank Sinatra and croon New York, New York. The crowd knows what’s about to happen before the tinkling piano of Empire State of Mind comes in. It feels like all the people in the stadium is singing the chorus at the top of their lungs. Jay-Z cracks a smile and points up to the rafters.
Here’s looking at you, babe: When Timberlake launches into Mirrors, the song that seems to be on constant loop on Toronto hit radio, he takes the concept of reflection literally, turning cameras onto fans in the audience who are then shocked to find themselves shown on the video screens.
Diamonds are forever: When Jay-Z performs Encore, a sea of arms go up waving his signature diamond-shaped hand-sign. The crowd continues to chant “Ho-va” long after he’s left the stage.
Bros until the end: They change quickly into dapper suit jackets for the encore of Timberlake’s Suit & Tie. Jay-Z is in a celebratory mood, sipping from a Champagne flute. They dedicate their last song of the night to Trayvon Martin and ask the crowd to light up the venue with their cellphones. The stadium sparkles and they close the night with Timberlake singing the chorus of Alphaville’s Forever Young that easily transitions into Jay-Z’s Young Forever. The night ends with the crowd singing along a cappella, “Do you really want to love forever? Forever young.” Jay-Z caps the night with an important message for his adoring crowd: “Peace and love.”
Next stops: The tour continues in New York with two stops at Yankee Stadium (Friday and Saturday), then Chicago’s Soldier Field (Monday).
I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)
Rock Your Body
Excuse Me Miss
On to the Next One
Like I Love You
Jigga What Jigga Who (Originator ’99)
U Don’t Know
99 Problems / Walk This Way
Bonnie & Clyde
Public Service Announcement (Interlude)
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)
Pusher Love Girl
Until the End of Time
Let the Groove Get In
Take Back the Night
Cry Me a River
What Goes Around … Comes Around
New York New York / Empire State of Mind
Run This Town
Suit & Tie
Forever Young / Young Forever