Janet Jackson, gifted vocalist and hellified hoofer, gets “Up Close and Personal” at the Orpheum Theatre


Janet Jackson never had much range, yet always made up for it with some of the most gifted phrasing this side of Smokey Robinson. It’s held her in, to say the least, excellent stead. That and her bell-like clarity. Since 1982’s debut Janet Jackson, yielding the sultry anthem “Come Give Your Love to Me,” she’s prevailed, an R&B artist of singular consequence, velvet vocals ensconced in snake-hipped ambiance, largely courtesy of producing team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Charting multi-platinum, Jackson is an industry unto herself.

The veritable goddess graced Minneapolis’ Orpheum Theatre July 19th, swinging through on her international Number Ones, Up Close & Personal tour, performing to, of course, a packed auditorium: you couldn’t get anyone else in the 2,400+ house with a shoehorn.

Like the tour’s title says, it’s a concert of Jackson performing her best-selling singles. And it’s well done. Slick, a bit of a ripoff, but, hell, you get some pretty good music. Too bad there weren’t fewer videos and more Janet Jackson live in the flesh (after all, you can watch videos at home for free instead of spending between $67.50 and $199). A troupe of dancers doubled background for Jackson and as filler when she cooled her heels offstage between some of the songs. Between the video after video and drawn-out choreography, Jackson maybe sang half the night. When she did, though, the woman made magic.

Jackson’s pitch wavered on “Let’s Wait a While.” In fact, it was wobbly. Other than that, she was dead-on and her full-head-of-steam prowling around the stage mesmerized. Her band isn’t much to write home about: great technicians who recreate the studio sound on stage but don’t exactly play with a world of feeling. As well, the formulaic choreography—even when the constantly whirling, strutting, and gyrating Jackson was at her most alluring—soon began to get old. By the end of the night it was actually repetitive. There were moments that waxed downright eerie. For instance, while she can’t move like Michael did, you can tell by the way her body turns almost liquid that her brother wasn’t the only hellified hoofer in the family.

Jackson’s set list skipped all her early stuff and stuck close to albums like Rhythm Nation 1814, Discipline, and The Velvet Rope for cuts like “The Pleasure Principle,” “Control,” “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” and “Nasty.” On the down side, she pretty sang note for note what was on the records. On the other hand, they were some damned good records. With an encore of “Diamonds” and “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” the evening was a tidy 90 minutes that began and ended on time.

When you see Jackson in an arena, from all but the best cheap seats she’s just a dot roving around the stage and you wind up with a stiff neck from watching a gigantic television screen. This was a rare opportunity to get a good look at an icon. And, slick ripoff or not, a memorable look at Janet Jackson.