Janet Jackson’s sold-out Madison Square Garden show keeps bar high for live concerts

REVIEW: Janet Jackson performs the second of two consecutive sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York during her "Together Again Tour."

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Janet Jackson is in a unique position.

In her prime during the 1990s and early 2000s, she was the biggest superstar in the world, staging world tours that few, if any, other artists, male or female, could compete with. On Tuesday night, less than a week before her 57th birthday, Jackson is now applying that same pressure on female stars more than 15 years her junior.

At the second of a two-night sold-out stand at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Jackson’s “Together Again Tour” was a live concert, a history lesson and a tutorial on longevity, professionalism and audience engagement.

2022 Essence Festival Of Culture - Louisiana Superdome - Day 2
Janet Jackson performs during the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture on July 2, 2022 at the Caesars  Superdome in New Orleans. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Essence)

It’s been nearly 41 years since Jackson’s self-titled debut album and 37 years since her breakthrough album, “Control.” She’s received damn near every accolade, from Grammy Awards, an Oscar nomination, and a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. However, her contingent of fans in New York saw a Jackson still hungry, engaged and eager to put on a show.

Ludacris warmed the crowd up with his opening set. For 35 minutes, he also reminded the crowd that he had hits for days. The Grammy-winning rapper-actor kicked things off with “Welcome to Atlanta” and ran through a string of his hits and fan favorites, including “Southern Hospitality,” “What’s Your Fantasy,” “Stand Up” and “Get Back.”

Jackson’s headlining set began with a video collage of lifetime photos, projecting above the stage. Soon, a large white curtain fell, revealing Jackson standing center stage, donning a large hooded purple wrap as she sang “Damita Jo,” putting the sold-out arena into a frenzy.

Removing her hood, she was now in a skin-tight gold outfit, rocking a ponytail that seemed to stretch into forever. She then launched into DJ Premier’s “Together Again” remix, one of Jackson’s 10 Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 singles. As the tour title, it was one of three different versions of the song that Jackson would perform throughout the night.

Jackson tested the devotion and attention of her fans by including many songs from the late stages of her career. Following the 2004 Super Bowl incident and former CBS head Les Moonves’ alleged industry blackballing of her, Jackson’s four most recent albums, “Damita Jo (2004),” “20 Y.O. (2006),” “Discipline (2008)” and “Unbreakable (2015),” suffered from diminishing sales. However, the fans passed the test, singing every word to songs like “No Sleep,” “Feedback,” “So Excited,” and “Enjoy.”

Throughout the night, Jackson displayed insane command of stamina and energy. Accompanied by four male background dancers all evening, she was strategic in her choreography placement. Jackson is infamous for her dance routines on stage and in videos. While she moved much of the night with a restrained economy of movement, her charisma made subtle dance steps and shoulder movements look powerful.

Janet Jackson, K-Pop, Together Again tour, Black music artists, theGrio.com
Janet Jackson performs during Hard Rock Live on April 14, 2023 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood in Hollywood, Florida. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Janet Jackson)

When Jackson decided to go all out with her dancing, it was almost too much for the audience to take in. She opened “If” early in the show with her iconic dance break from its accompanying 1993 video. The reverberation from the audience’s screams and stomping materialized into the air. A similar commotion happened when she pulled out the video dance breaks from “All For You” and “Miss You Much.”

Each costume change signaled the show’s new phase and tonality, mirroring past tours like “The Velvet Rope” and “All For You.” Halfway through, the band moved to the front of the stage and the lights went red as she slowed the tempo down. Jackson treated fans with a string of signature slow jams, starting with the Deeper Remix of “Together Again” and including “Let’s Wait Awhile” and “Anytime Anyplace.”

At this time, Jackson gave the audience members their turn to perform as the opening piano chords played “Again.” The sold-out crowd-turned-choir sang the poignant ballad back to Jackson, putting a lovely smile on her face.

Jackson performing songs she said she rarely performed live was one of the biggest treats of the show. One was her collaboration with Busta Rhymes, “What’s It Gonna Be.” The Long Island MC emerged from backstage to thunderous applause performing his verse of the song with Jackson. He then paused the show to literally give Jackson her flowers, a large white bouquet and a birthday cake. He fought back tears while offering the veteran singer his gratitude.

The show climaxed with an explosive block of songs from her “Rhythm Nation 1814” album, beginning with “The Knowledge.” After thrilling everyone with “Miss You Much,” “Alright” and “Escapade,” the stage briefly went dark.

When the intro to “Scream,” her duet with brother, Michael Jackson, played, the energy went to a new level. That level elevated just seconds later when Michael Jackson’s vocals and image from the video played on the screens above before transitioning into “Black Cat” and then “Rhythm Nation.”

2022 Essence Festival Of Culture - Louisiana Superdome - Day 2
Janet Jackson performs during the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture on July 2, 2022 at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Essence)

Ending the show with the album version of “Together Again,” Jackson used the song as a thinly veiled message to fans after canceling her last tour because of the COVID-19 shutdown. She communed with her fans, letting them know she was back and not going anywhere anytime soon.

The “Together Again Tour” could and does rival any current tour that a female artist is headlining. It is an affirmation of her place in music history and a sign that she has more to add to her legacy and to keep the bar high for live concerts.

Set List:

1. “Damita Jo/Together Again DJ Premier Remix”
2. “Feedback”
3. “If”
4. “No Sleep”
5. “Got ‘Til It’s Gone”
6. “That’s the Way Love Goes”
7. “Enjoy”
8. “What Have You Done For Me Lately”
9. “Nasty”
10. “Pleasure Principle”
11. “Because of Love”
12. “When I Think of You”
13. “The Best Things in Life Are Free”
14. “Control”
15. “When We Oooo”
16. “Together Again Deeper Remix”
17. “Come Back to Me”
18. “Let’s Wait Awhile”
19. “Again”
20. “Anytime Anyplace”
21. “I Get Lonely”
22. “Doesn’t Really Matter”
23. “All For You”
24. Come On Get Up”
25. “Throb”
26. “Girlfriend/Boyfriend”
27. “Do It 2 Me”
28. “What’s It Gonna Be (special guest Busta Rhymes)”
29. “So Excited”
30. “The Knowledge”
31. “Miss You Much”
32. “Love Will Never Do Without You”
33. “Alright”
34. “Escapade”
35. “Scream/Black Cat”
36. “Rhythm Nation”
37. “Together Again”

Matthew Allen is an entertainment writer of music and culture for theGrio. He is an award-winning music journalist, TV producer and director based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s interviewed the likes of Quincy Jones, Jill Scott, Smokey Robinson and more for publications such as Ebony, Jet, The Root, Village Voice, Wax Poetics, Revive Music, Okayplayer, and Soulhead. His video work can be seen on PBS/All Arts, Brooklyn Free Speech TV and BRIC TV.

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