The production values were high, as were the Hova hands, during the latest stop on Jay Z and Justin Timberlake's Legends of the Summer Tour—a.k.a. the Suit and Why (Did We Team Up Again)? Tour, featuring Mr. Knowles and the giant piece of tofu from SNL.
There were quite a few Jigga whats and Jigga whys prompted by last night's two-and-a-half hour concert at Soldier Field, but to answer the one about the origins of this unexpected partnership: Apparently, last year JT and Jay Z were recording down the hall from each other at the same studio and spontaneously started collaborating. The result includes tracks such as "Holy Grail," for Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail (the cringeworthy lyrics of which had us LOLing recently in the office), and "Suit and Tie," for Timberlake's third album The 20/20 Experience. The latter LP will soon be followed by The 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2, which will be followed by The 20/20 Experience: The Complete Experience (both albums packaged together), which leads us to another reason for this tour: These artists know how to make bank. By collaborating on each other's albums and bringing together their unique, though not entirely distinct, fan bases, they're also bringing in legendary amounts of cash. Scanning the thousands upon thousands of screaming fans at Solider Field, I heard the Super Mario Bros. coin-collecting sound effect in my head.
That there is so much buzz around these two, especially this summer, is this tour's selling point and also it's Achilles' heel. Their friendship isn't the unlikely thing: It's not hard to picture JT and Jay Z having a ball—say, smoking cigars together in Jay's Manhattan penthouse, wearing Armani suits. But they posture as this power duo onstage as well, when in fact, how they perform and interact with the audience is strikingly, and distractingly, dissimilar.
Timberlake, the former Mouseketeer, aims for charm and likability ("I see you in the back!" he said, more than once, acknowledging the nosebleed sections); Jay Z focuses on reinforcing his own self-created messianic mythos. (Lyric from Magna Carta Holy Grail that he rapped last night: "I don't pop molly, I rock Tom Ford / International bring back the Concorde / Numbers don't lie, check the scoreboard.") It makes the whole "WE ARE LEGENDS" angle come off as undeniably cheesy. Spouting rhymes in front of projections of flames and fuzzy TV footage of George W. Bush and oil rigs, Jay Z's carefully cultivated sense of drama was often immediately, and sometimes laughably, deflated by Timberlake's high-school musical antics—e.g., his cop impression on "99 Problems" and a schmaltzy Frank Sinatra cover of "New York, New York" that segued into—surprise, surprise—Jay Z's "Empire Stage of Mind."
"Chicago is for lovers," JT told the crowd, while playing a slow R&B interlude on the keys. "I saw a shirt in the airport that said that." But he didn't linger long at the jazzy piano bar. Before "Cry Me a River," the fedora-sporting crooner grabbed the mic and sneered, with tons of 'tude, "Chicago may be for lovers, but it can't all be peaches and cream, bitch!" The fierce breakup anthem from 2002—with its Gregorian chants, haunting synths and timelessly relatable revenge lyrics—still holds up in 2013, which is probably why both Selena Gomez and the Biebs have been using it to passively aggressively dis each other in public. Images of water splashed across the giant projection screens, which throughout the night displayed an array of unsubtle imagery: nude bodies, slithering snakes, curling smoke and classical sculpture. Timberlake clearly enjoyed himself on "Cry Me a River" (maybe he needed to separate himself from it for a decade to achieve that enjoyment), so did the crowd, who really got into his performance of the hit "Mirrors." You know the one—you've heard it six times, just today, whether at the grocery store, Dunkin' Donuts or doctor's office.
While the "legends" collaborated on some songs, and went solo on others, Timberlake seemed to have more stage time, performing an extended version of "My Love" and his new, controversially titled "Take Back the Night." He showcased his diverse talents by playing piano, acoustic guitar and electric guitar as well as rapping, dancing and making ample use of his falsetto. "He sooooo hot," said the teen girl behind me. "He's beautiful," echoed the older woman beside her, who was maybe her mom.
Jay Z loosened up on old hits such as the Kanye West–produced "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)", which samples the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" to amazing effect, "Big Pimpin'" and "Hard Knock Life." His new, considerably less inspired material—such as the aforementioned "Holy Grail"—came off as goofily pompous. That's one silver lining of JT and Hov sharing the stage. As awkward as it seems at times, it furnishes moments that take the air out of Jay Z's emcee-turned-mogul super-inflated ego—as when the one-percenter–specific "Tom Ford," off Magna Carta Holy Grail, is followed by Timberlake channeling Sinatra to not very great effect. The "Legends of the Summer" doesn't make a ton of sense, but it entertains in its flashy ambition and moments of unintended comedy.