The no-holds-barred extravaganza that Janet Jackson brought to Madison Square Garden’s stage on Monday night had just about everything — a plethora of costumes, cleverly deployed video clips, ornate props. What it could have used was a little more Janet.
Over the course of the two-hour, 25-song perf, Miss Jackson left the stage eight times for costume changes and ceded the spotlight to her dance troupe in several other instances. When she was in (no pun intended) full control, the proceedings were electrifying, especially when she dispensed with the frills and belted out suitably pelvis-directed versions of songs like “Nasty Boys” and the disco-ball spinner “Together Again.”
More stagy interludes elicited a “been there, done that” response, since many of them (the bondage scenario, the Alice in Wonderland fantasy) were recycled from her last tour. The dancers that accompanied her onstage steered clear of standard aerobics workouts for the most part, slipping in some surprisingly sophisticated modern dance moves — most effectively on the electro-funk ditty “Trust a Try.” That was one of the better selections from Jackson’s “All for You” album, some of which fell flat due to unfamiliarity and some due to lackluster performance.
Older hits, largely performed in well-spaced medleys, rather than full-scale versions, connected with more panache, thanks in part to the solid rhythms laid down by Ethan Farmer and Brian Frasier-Moore. Likewise, the costuming, such as the vintage ’40s ensembles that Jackson and company tossed on for “All Right,” were clever and compelling without being distracting.
The same could not always be said for the singer’s vocal performances: Her voice, never the strongest instrument in pop, was buoyed with a fair amount of pre-taped support, given away by the breathless introductions that cleaved note-perfect replications of certain songs.
That said, Jackson did manifest a genuine love of the stage, and even when she lapsed into shopworn shtick, she seemed to be enjoying the communal experience every bit as much as her audience, which devoured every crumb as ravenously as “Survivor” contestants might fall on a surreptitiously found bag of Doritos.
Janet Jackson plays the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim on Sept. 29 and Staples Center in Los Angeles on Oct. 2 and 3.