Janet Jackson is still in control

by Sean Piccoli

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (MCT)

4 October 2008


The tour coinciding with Janet Jackson’s new CD, “Discipline,” suffered a bout of uncertainty this week. But Jackson, 42, will perform as scheduled on Tuesday at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., said publicists for the veteran R&B star and for the concert’s promoter.

Strings of cancellations and postponements, and a trip to the hospital, have raised questions about the status of “Rock Witchu,” Jackson’s first tour since 2001.

Tour publicist Kitara Garner said Jackson is recuperating after falling ill on Monday during a sound check in Montreal, Canada, where she was briefly hospitalized. Garner did not elaborate. But People magazine’s Web site quoted an unnamed source “close to” Jackson’s boyfriend, music producer Jermaine Dupri, saying Jackson “has complained of exhaustion.”

“She is doing back-to-back, three-hour shows, and her body isn’t the same as it used to be,” the source told People.

“Rock Witchu,” a production with numerous costume and set changes, opened on Sept. 10 in Vancouver, Canada. On Sept. 18, Jackson held a conference call with music journalists to discuss the tour and said the first dates had gone well.

“Actually, they’ve been just incredible,” she said, adding that she was “very thankful” to people for coming to see the performances, “especially with the economy being the way that it is.” Jackson said the first shows were sold out, although some reviewers and concertgoers have reported seeing plenty of empty seats.

Last Friday, Jackson canceled a performance in Detroit—a move her camp attributed to “production constraints.” Her illness this week led to the cancellation of the Montreal date, and the postponement of shows in Boston and Philadelphia. If all goes according to the revised schedule, Jackson will return to the road on Saturday in Greensboro, N.C., and then hit Sunrise.

What to expect? Jackson is performing parts or all of 38 songs in a live set spanning her entire career. Alongside the tectonic No. 1’s such as “Black Cat” and “All For You” are some of Jackson’s earliest chart ripples: “Young Love,” from her self-titled 1982 debut album, and “Don’t Stand Another Chance,” from 1984’s “Dream Street.”

The new CD “Discipline” also gets a workout, but overall “Rock Witchu” has a retrospective feel. It’s not a quiet look back. One set piece sports a futuristic, “Blade Runner” look. Another has a male audience “volunteer” hoisted up by wire to undergo an erotic frisking from Jackson.

There are slow jams as well, and segments where the visuals are more sumptuous than explosive. During Again, Jackson wears a gown designed by Donatella Versace. But her famously demanding, high-impact dance routines anchor much of the production.

“So a lot of the kids say it should be called ‘the history of dance’ because of so many different styles of dance that we go through—from street to ... two different styles of house to jazz to—oh, God, there’s a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of tap, too, which, if you blink, you’ll probably miss it. But it’s there,” Jackson said.

Just about any arena tour is a gamble now, even for a bankable star. The risks only multiply for a large, detailed production that Jackson candidly described as “fixed”—almost impervious to revision once it’s rolled out.

“If we needed to fix or tweak things ... I’m thinking I don’t know how we’re going to do it if it doesn’t work,” she said. “And I just kept my fingers crossed and pray to God that this is going to work, it’s going to be right and people are going to love it and enjoy it.”

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