Nightcrawler: Northern Exposure

It’s not unusual for festival organizers to say they have upped the ante by securing more acts, bigger acts or what have you.

But literally upping it geographically? Well that just may be a first.

“We wanted to maintain the DIY aesthetic and community spirit of Western Mass., but move it northward,” Northern Routes New Music Festival co-organizer Patrick Borezo says of the decision to have the kick-off for his event in Turners Falls July 31 and the festival proper at New Salem’s 1974 Meetinghouse Aug. 1-2.

Converging to participate in what Borezo hopes will be an annual affair this weekend are Boston’s Marissa Nadler and Glenn Jones, Big Apple-based folkie Juan Wauters and Virginia’s Black Twig Pickers, to name a choice few.

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Meanwhile… the Crawler must confess that, for reasons no greater than succumbing to sustained, pleading attacks by members of the opposite sex, Friday, July 18 marked the fourth time he has witnessed a live performance by one Justin Timberlake in the past decade and a half. These fellow concertgoers would alternately poke with a finger or jab with an elbow every time the ageless wunderkind soared into his silky smooth falsetto or locked in with the background dancers in high-speed hip-hop style.

“What?” I’d say. “The guy can sing and dance, yes, but it’s like an acting gig. Someone cast as him as pretty-boy pop tart, and he’s killing the role. But is this an artist performing music or a musical production with a great lead?”

Timberlake’s current 20/20 World Tour would reveal that the Crawler’s analysis was short-sighted at best. True, his performance always was—and still is—carefully scripted and choreographed. But, as is the universal truth with all things music, he simply lacked the tunes to carry a credible, full-length concert in years past.

From a songwriting point of view, earlier hits like “Rock Your Body” and “Señorita” offered plenty of MTV sizzle, but no proverbial sonic steak. Flesh out this thin-boned setlist with covers and N Sync chestnuts from his boy band days and assorted covers—as he had to—and the cheese factor swelled just south of Velveeta no matter how good it sounded.

But a funny thing happened along the road from boy band to solo man. Building on the back of previous hits like 2006’s “What Goes Around,” the performer who has literally been singing since Mouseketeer days found his true artist voice. It’s a smoky Memphis soul dashed with a hint of gospel that can be heard in current radio staples “Mirrors” and “Not A Bad Thing” and coaxed to its highest potential courtesy of a crackerjack, horn-laden backing band known as the Tennessee Kids. With a catalogue now comparable to his talents—not to mention an amazing, fully automated stage set and an unparalleled laser show—Timberlake is finally able to loose a mature, fully realized pop assault upon the masses.

Switching regularly between the mic proper, a beautiful Gibson J200 acoustic guitar, piano and keys, the headliner and his bandmates navigated through the beefed-up catalogue, throwing in a nod to fellow Memphisean Elvis Presley (“Heartbreak Hotel”) and teasers for Kool And The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” and even Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” along the way.

But perhaps it was the spot-on take on Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” that convinced the Crawler that maybe the torch had been passed. No one ever disputed MJ’s claim to be the King of Pop, and here was JT, hitting the same notes and silky smooth dance moves with the greatest of ease. If it walks like the King and talks like the King…

It’s a comparison apparently not lost on Timberlake—he throttled through some breakneck footwork without missing a note during a cover of Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison.”

“That’s right,” he said to a sold-out Mohegan Sun crowd through a Cheshire grin. “I still run this shit.”

Think what you want about the guy, when it comes to pop performances and looking at his contemporaries, such bravado certainly seems Just-ified.•


Send correspondence to Nightcrawler, P.O. box 427, Somers, CT 06071; fax to (860) 394-4262 or email

Author: Gary Carra

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