JT + The Tennessee Kids
This film portrays Justin Timberlake’s final night of his most recent tour, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Having released his third album The 20/20 Experience in March 2013, and then touring with it for two years, the film showcases a sophisticated performance three and a half years from the album’s debut and is a very satisfying gift to the fans. Justin Timberlake is bigger than ever, crossing over to acting roles in Hollywood and achieving huge commercial success with both parts one and two of The 20/20 Experience albums. However, the man is not presented as having any kind of ego, nor is he just the star of the show, this is an ensemble piece about both JT and the band – everyone gets their moment here.
Jonathan Demme directed this Netflix Original, which is a beautifully shot film that presents a live performance in a unique way in comparison to previous concert movies. The beginning of the film introduces us to the band members, backing vocalists and dancers, telling us who they are and what they do, personalising the performance far more than just kicking things off with the start of the set. In this opening segment we meet the two guitarists Michael Scott and Elliot Ives, along with the bassist and musical director Adam Blackstone, who tells the camera that ‘these guys make me sound good’ – there is a sense of camaraderie and rapport between all of these performers. We their pre-show ritual, which is used by Demme to build tension for the actual concert and to portray that this camaraderie is not just artists supporting each other, but friendships that have built over two years of playing together.
The show itself commences with JT entering the stage on a raised platform as a silhouette, reminiscent of Michael Jackson, to the beautiful strings of his song ‘Pusher Love Girl’ and moving from handheld documentary style shots to static film shots. Then the entire band enter on raising platforms dressed to kill, with some sexy AF horns and an ensemble clap build-up with a cappella singing; the audience are immediately involved, singing and clapping along as soon as it kicks off. As the set continues you can see smiling faces across the band and it is clear everyone on stage is enjoying themselves, with Timberlake telling the audience that they are ‘just getting warmed up’ as they begin ‘Rock You Girl’.
The production team have taken lighting design to the next level, with an awesome hexagonal honeycomb structure hosting lights behind it and covering the entirety of the stage backdrop. The dancers are phenomenal and ridiculously energetic, with some vigorous but effortlessly stylish choreography. JT is of course demonstrating his skills as both a performer and a dancer, he has some class moves, once again with references to MJ. The band are one of the most talented groups of musicians I have seen perform a live show, every single person is totally on point and completely absorbed in the music and performance. This film has it all and is not merely footage of a live concert, there’s a narrative with emotion, comedy and tension; it feels like a cinematic film with a story you want to follow until its climactic ending.
Without wishing to give too much away, there are some amazing set pieces and lighting displays with some great covers and alternate live versions of Timberlake’s back catalogue. The light shows throughout deserve a lot of recognition, which Demme manages to film and present in such a beautifully cinematic but immersive way that you can truly appreciate how creative and incredible this performance is. Individual songs feel like a show in themselves, everyone gets at least one chance to shine in this set and you really get a sense of this being a team-playing ensemble, which just happens to have the legend that is Justin Timberlake fronting the show. The man himself is clearly humbled, despite his many talents, and interacts with his audience to make a huge venue feel like an intimate gig during certain songs, he even has a shot with someone in the crowd – this is a grounded superstar. The concert ends like a proper show, with an outro and encore singalong to Mirrors, but you should watch through the credits. The film ends with Demme showing all of the crew prepping for the concert, we see how much hard work goes into this and how many people are involved, the final shot is of everything ready to go as if no one was even there.
This is a film that presents a flawlessly crafted show which feels seamless and smooth whilst paying attention to every production and performance element - no one is ignored here. JT + The Tennessee Kids will encourage you to rediscover Justin Timberlake and his repertoire of bangers, but it will also make you appreciate and understand the breadth of people that are involved in a music concert. As soon as you finish this film, you’ll be itching to see the musician whenever he next tours. Let’s hope that JT doesn’t have a hiatus from his musical career for another five years, because without Justin Timberlake the music industry would have an empty void that would be difficult to fill. JT has proven his talents and set himself apart from the legends that he takes influence from, becoming a star in his own right, so here’s hoping that he’ll return with another album and tour sooner rather than later, because after watching this film you will probably be desperate to listen to his music and see him live.