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Concert Reviews
Justin & Christina
(Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, MI - July 25th, 2003)

Pop superstars Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera launched their 45-city 'Justified & Stripped Tour' in Phoenix on Wednesday and the powerhaus tour pulled into the Palace of Auburn Hills tonight. Their new, more mature images, and in some ways music received a strong thumbs-up from the near-sellout crowd of kids and adults alike!

In staging the only huge 'pop' tour of the summer, the pair of former bubblegum singers showed off their newest albums, which lean toward R&B, rap and, in Aguilera's case, even some rock. However, Timberlake moved even more toward stripped-down, old-school soul in his 80-minute set, which kept the crowd on its feet most of the time. But, although the 22-year-old Timberlake kept the crowd in a constant frenzy (he had the advantage of an audience that was 90 percent female), Aguilera held her own on the co-headlining bill with her former fellow Mousketeer.

Aguilera led off the evening with a powerful set from her wide-ranging Stripped CD, on which she discarded the clean-cut image of a few years ago. With her newly-darkened hair cascading down her back, Aguilera took the stage wearing a black leather, halter-style cat suit adorned with provocatively placed florescent-pink strips. The outfit had minimal material on front and back, but some fashionable tape kept things from becoming R-rated!

Fittingly, Aguilera opened with the 'Stripped' intro which segued into the raw beats of 'Dirrty.' "I have not been onstage like this for a long time," she said, referring to her lengthy layoff from touring. The crowd reacted warmly to that statement and to the rest of Aguilera's show. The tiny, 22-year-old singer's dazzling voice is her main calling card, and she had fans in awe several times during songs such as 'Impossible,' 'Soar' and a classy cover of Etta James' 'At Last.'

Although she has moved past the teen-queen image of her 1999 debut album, Aguilera made a few nods to some early hits. 'Genie In A Bottle' was shortened, 'What A Girl Wants' was funkified, and 'Come On Over (All I Want Is You)' received a smooth, jazzy makeover. At times, she played up her new sexy image by having one of her male dancers rip her skirt off at one point, crawling around the stage as she watched another male dancer do a semi-striptease, and parading in a red-and-white-sequined corset during 'Lady Marmalade' from the film 'Moulin Rouge.' However, she emerged for her final number wearing a T-shirt that said "God Sees No Color" and a pair of jeans, performing a partly a cappella version of her inspiring ballad 'Beautiful.'

Timberlake's set started out looking like an' 'NSYNC flashback, with the singer and his eight dancers moving crisply through the kind of dance moves made popular by his on-hiatus band. However, his performance of songs from his Justified album made it clear that Timberlake's heart lies in the soul music of his native Memphis, Tenn. While the CD has a hip-hop overtone, hits such as 'Rock Your Body,' 'Like I Love You and 'Last Night' received a more sleek, soulful sound at the hands of Timberlake and his large band, which included three horn players, a DJ and two keyboardist. Two 'NSYNC songs, 'Gone' and 'Girlfriend,' also got retro treatment.

He took a break from the tight choreography during slower tunes such as the bittersweet 'Cry Me A River,' which built to a amazing climax with the help of his four talented backup singers, and 'Still On My Brain.' Timberlake made several subtle costume changes and employed some fireworks and some well-time pyrotechnics, but his music remained the focal point. It was good to see Timberlake tone down the Michael Jackson nods from his CD, but a dance routine on top of a grand piano inspired by the Gloved One was phenomenal.

Review by Steve Rogers
Photos By Russell A. Trunk