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JANET JACKSON Velvet Rope Tour Live Review, Melody Maker, 1998

Melody Maker, 25 April 1998

IT'S WHEN THE camera catches the screen and doubles her back to infinity. It's when she's frozen silent by the spotlight, in the teeth of a crowd howl so frenzied and so insatiable the ground gives way.

It's when that mass of noise — perhaps the definitive sound of the 20th century — surges over into delirium and she juts the chin and drops the shoulder and you just know she is only intact now. And stardom is reprieved from Hollywood and given back to pop to play with, and you fall to the floor and gurgle. Gig of the century. Listen.

It's part spectacle, part musical and part plain unearthly. From the black, a giant velvet rope unfurls, a huge screen is opened out, you're hurtled through hyperspace at warp speed, the stage explodes in pyrotechnics and there she is. Janet Jackson. Twenty thousand people yearning with every cell of their being to fuse with her metabolism. 'Velvet Rope', 'If' and 'You' are the greatest ten public minutes of my life so far. She tells us she loves us. We utterly believe her, because she has no reason to lie. She sings 'Wait A While' and 'Again', and we each analyse our own tawdry relationships and lifesize passions and have to conclude they're not true. Then, ohmygod, a Control medley of such spine-cracking brutality, white people pass out, 'Nasty' kicking off a dance-troupe, all-action orgy of Eighties bodyrock. On 'Throb' and 'Ropeburn' (where a wretch is plucked from the audience, tied to a chair and pole-danced until he's a Kangol full of puree), the scorn we adore explodes from her performance, our base bodies struck dumb in wonder at the first human being to evolve to the point where she can actually f*** herself. Completely. Obscenely.

That's what she's doing. Self-possession in excelsis. We're not needed, and yet we're in love. The stage empties, the curtain draws, we scream at it in hesitant agony; suddenly a huge moon, a giant technicolour clock, a slide, — everyone's dressed as flowers, she's wearing a hat bigger than herself and we're not in Kansas any more. Never having seen anything as eye-popping in our lives, we squeal as 'Runaway' and 'Whoops' make us Disney-designed kids drunk on joy; then, in a wink, a Rhythm Nation section of brute futuristic brilliance and a 'Special' so moving we pretend to cry, unembarrassed, fearless. 'That's The Way Love Goes' and 'Got' stem the flood with funk so deep it damn near kills us, before 'Together' sends us coasting into the night drained, devastated, on fire. She blows me a kiss. Me. You wouldn't understand. You aren't really here.

Just try to understand, because our world is different now. Whether you believe in the concept of stardom doesn't matter, because stardom isn't a concept. It's an effect, a transmission, the last state of grace and divinity left on this godless rock, a happening that's irrefutable because there isn't time. And Janet Jackson is the most engulfing and engrossing star I think I'll ever see in my lifetime. We are changed. Go see. And start your life.

© Neil Kulkarni, 1998


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