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Stripped and Justified... or... Justified and Stripped...
Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado
23 June 2003
The Black Eyed Peas A-
Christina Aguilera A-
Justin Timberlake B+

Imagine the anticipation. Two former Mouseketeers double billing on one of the biggest concert tours of the new millennium! Christina Aguilera (Xtina to her closer fans) and Justin Timberlake (a double threat as both a boy band member and a former Mouseketeer - whoooaa).

Having recently invested in JT's solo CD, Justified (that song Rock Your Body is so damn catchy), I thoroughly expected his performance to outshine Xtina's. As for Xtina, I got her latest album, Stripped, the same day I picked up U2's Best of 1990-2000 in The Hague last year. What a day that was. I remember it well.

Anyway, "my girl" did me proud, putting on not only a more versatile show, but proving her material is also stronger than a lot JT's boy-band influenced canon.

It was a fairly eclectic (and almost sold out) crowd. My seat, purchased only a week prior to the show, was even better than anticipated. On the inside aisle of Section CCC, right off the center, only 6 rows from the mini-catwalk, 14 rows from the main stage.

But I was kind of ripped off. I only got half a seat because I was sitting next to a heffer taking up all of her seat and half of mine. Not that it matters much. Rule Number One in Concert-Going: YOU NEVER SIT DURING A CONCERT!! I was just shocked by my space restriction (security kept people confined in the rows, no drifting into the aisles). Plus there was a big bruiser in front of me with his daughter (I assume). So, between my seat, the seat in front of me, and the seat beside me, we're talking about roughly 1,000 pounds of humanity (or something like it). And, according to my driver's license, I weigh 175.

Lordy. I didn't think I'd have problems seeing because the guy in front of was too big! (Ya see, it's not all glamour in Mattopia.)

Where was I?

Oh yeah. Xtina and JT. Unlike the Face to Face tour with those classic rockers Billy Joel and Elton John, Xtina and JT never perform together. That's a bit of a shame. But, after JT's set of non-stop dance music, I was ready to bolt out to the Mattmobile for some more "traditional" rock 'n' roll. Read on, dear reader.

Opening Act: The Black Eyed Peas serve up some hot hip-hop...

The Black Eyed Peas' 25-minute set actually started 10 minutes early, no doubt to help meet an 11 p.m. curfew. Having only recently embraced the world of hip-hop, I was a little stand-offish at first. But they won me over.

For one thing, there was this incredibly hot chick in a fatigue-colored tank top and white cut-off jeans. Da-amn, she had looks and a voice! In addition to the honey baby, there was a dude in a purple jumper, a dude in a black hoody and bomber jacker, and a dude in a fedora.

They did a fine job of working up the crowd as they danced around the stage and jumped on the end-stage speakers, encouraging the crowd to loosen up and get into it. Particularly effective was the crowd-pleasing ditty, Let's Get Retarded. That one has all the markings of becoming a Mattopian anthem.

When they asked the crowd to cheer for Christina then Justin, JT seemed to have a larger cheering section... or at least those chicks were more vocal.

And it was indeed a very vocal crowd. The Peas called us "the liveliest crowd on the tour so far!"

Woo-hoo! The goal is elevation, baby!

Their closer, Where Is the Love, whipped the crowd into a frenzy and converted me into a fan.

That hot chick and those dudes go by the names Fergie, Will.I.Am, Taboo, and Apl.De.Ap. It was nice to see Fergie thank her therapist in the liner notes of their new album, Elephunk. You go girl!

Main Act I: Xtina bares her Mattopian mettle...

OK, so Xtina has come out of her shell as a sweet little teeny-bop singer and reinvented herself as a bad ass chick. Now she's all dirrty and a tough-talker. But she's also challenged with a weak fashion sense, on occasion. She starts her set in an odd Vampirella-esque outfit, a black pleather number with orange stripes.

But, it's just part of the show, ladies and gents. Xtina goes through numerous costume changes during her performance. So many, in fact, that it starts to feel like she's simply a little girl having fun putting on a show and, well, changing costumes.

Some of her schtick is... shudder... still a bit Disneyfied. Particularly a stilted moment of staged humor, in which one of the male dancers rips Xtina's skirt off, revealing a pair of tight, tight denim shorts. It happens to all the girl dancers by the boy dancers, but Xtina makes an issue of it. Those pretty boys try to speak and joke about it, but as soon as they open their mouths, it's clear they've spent waaay too much time staring in the mirror.

Aside from that, though, Xtina is a solid performer and her songs actually have a lot of inspirational material. Fighter, for example, has long been an anthem on the Mattopian airwaves.

Even Dirrty, the first single off Stripped, which was was accompanied by a "controversial" boxing video, is a good song when performed live. Also performed from Stripped were Impossible and The Voice Within (which she dedicated to all the girls out there still needing to find themselves). Make Over is a song with a great beat and Xtina spiced it up performing against a chain link fence prop.

Veering into the realm of more Disney cheese, she performed Can't Hold Us Down, her next single, while riding on a silly motorcycle that moved on the stage like a carnival ride. Considering it's a song about sexual equality, she should've taken a more serious approach to the live edition.

Xtina also pulled out some "oldies," including a cool "acoustic" version of Come On Over Baby that proves it to be more of a solid pop song along the lines of Billy Joel than just another teenage throw-away tune.

Xtina made lots of chit-chat between songs, thanking the crowd and setting up the songs with little bits of background information, her challenges in the biz, etc. She had a bad day, blaming it on the bullshit of the world and the industry she's in. (Uh, preach it, sister.) If only she'd set her attentions on a higher level, get away from the injustice of "boys can screw, girls can't" and make a difference in the world regarding more hefty matters, like Bono does.

As for the staging, it was at times like ZOO-TV (hey, I'm just trying to relate it to what I understand). An array of TV screens drop down to show a montage of clips from her videos accompanied by her interlude tracks, Stripped Intro and Stripped Pt. 2; they also display different images to help set the scene, such as Latin posters during Infatuation. In doing so, Xtina demonstrates her lofty ambitions and, I must say, proves herself to be quite a Mattopian.

Lady Marmalade also made it onto the set list. It was excellent to hear live, but it went by way too fast. Or maybe I was just overcome by the whole experience. Dunno.

Xtina finished her set with a disappointingly silly rendition of What a Girl Wants, featuring a 1950s cheerleaders theme.

As a very nice touch, though, she returned for a quasi-encore of Beautiful. Decked out in nothing more than hip huggers, flip-flops, and a tight-fitting white T-shirt with the slogan "God Sees No Color," Xtina finally stripped off her stage gloss and presented Christina Aguilera. When she's honest to herself and the audience, she is a far more compelling performer.

I think her future's bright and she has the potential to accomplish some truly stunning stuff. She may well be the next Madonna. With her Stripped tour, she proves the strength of her Stripped album. After all the hype, intentional and otherwise, she's become underrated.

It's nice to know that, while Xtina/Christina had a bad day (she got some bad news, but wouldn't divulge more) we made her night. And she thanked the appreciative crowd for that.

Main Act II: Justin can't escape his band-boyness...

First off, JT, I've read about you changing your boxers something like 12 times a day. Dude, if it's that bad, see a doctor! (By the way, there were a lot of boxers and panties on sale at the T-shirt stands. Just thought I'd share that observation.)

OK, so I've already mentioned my great seat, but uncomfortable surroundings. Well, for JT's set, the hags came out in force. For many big-name bands, the problem is seeing "suits" sitting down in front. This time, it was a crew of "ladies" (the term is used very loosely here) right smack in front of the stage, dancing away while sipping their beer. These women clearly came from the half-way house for the nouveau-divorced and were on the prowl. They wore too much make up and have been to the tanning booth several times too many. Somebody put them back on their leashes, please.

But, JT rose above the situation and played the crowd like a... ummm... like a song.

Still, his *NSync stuff stank. I mean P-U! And by *NSync, I'm referring to anything not on his Justified album, which is actually pretty slick and entertaining. Unfortunately, a lot of the tunes on the album sound better on the album.

One very major exception is Cry Me a River, a song I didn't care for much until this stellar live performance. It took on anthemic tones. LOUD. PYROTECHNICS. HEAT. ANGER. Seeing JT flip off the source of his frustration... Whoa... Homey!

Also well done was his finale, Like I Love You. Rock Your Body (the set's opener), Senorita, and Still On My Brain, though, seemed to be missing some oomph.

And so it is that, while his Justified album is strong, Xtina's new stuff is stronger. Part of that could be because Xtina puts more emphasis on her vocal performance, giving more of a rocker vibe than JT, who is still stuck in boy band mode with his over-the-top emphasis on synchronized dancing.

At one point, JT reverted to another *NSync-style staging gimmick, sitting on a crane that moved over the front rows of the crowd while he attempted to turn the Pepsi Center into a "club." While the execution was fairly effective and it got the girls screaming, he was up there too long. And, after a while, all the choreographed dancing and sugar-sweet teenage love songs started to grate.

Here's to hoping JT moves beyond the boy band material. Right now he's being hyped as the next Michael Jackson (it is kinda hard to tell 'em apart these days), but he should branch out and do some rock 'n' roll, like Xtina. Get some edge, Man!

I'd also like to point out that JT must be going to the Michael Winslow School of Oral Noise Making. JT's doing a lot of oral beeping and whirring these days, but he has yet to progress to advanced machine gun and fart sounds.

Anyway, while Xtina had the ZOO-TV thing going, JT went with a jazz lounge motif and had his own string of costume changes, but in that regard he was nowhere near as extravagant as Xtina.

Like Xtina, JT spent a fair amount of time chit-chatting and he complimented us for being the loudest crowd of the tour. I must have that effect on crowds. U2's said the same thing in my presence on several occasions. Come to think of it, so did Everclear back in April. Hmmm...

Helping to pull Denver out of its hard-to-shake cowtown image, JT asked, "You get down like this on a Monday night? A Monday? I'd hate to see you on the weekends!"

Thanks, JT. We rock in Denver!

But the powers that be won't let us stay up late. Xtina and JT each did a 75-80 minute sets and, by gosh, we met the 11:00 curfew. This show went off like clockwork.

One last thing: Justin asked if any girls out there might be interested in being his girlfriend. The screaming was deafening. I have never, in all my concert-going days, experienced such a skull-crushing roar of shrieking estrogen. Justin enjoyed it. He had earplugs.

Ladies, he ain't that cute. Cameron Diaz, and the rest of you honey babies, should trade up to some fine, 100% natural Mattopian sugar.

Word.

TC

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