Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Though she never actually went away, Janet Jackson nonetheless enjoyed a nice little comeback in 2001. Response to her 1997 album The Velvet Rope and the ensuing 1998 concert tour seemed positive but they didn’t live up to the high standards she’d set in the past. If you current sales don’t equal or surpass prior results, people see it as a failure, even if the artist in question does quite well objectively.
In truth, Janet’s 2001 release All For You sold only about two million copies, a big drop from the six million each of 1989’s Rhythm Nation 1814 and 1993’s janet. It even marked a decline from the three million of Rope. Nonetheless, buzz means everything, and All For You seemed to revive Janet’s heat factor. The title song emerged as a major hit, and the ensuing tour enjoyed much more sizzle after the perceived flop of the 1998 “Velvet Rope” tour. Many regarded the latter as a flop; in reality, it did fairly well, but the perception of it as a disappointment remained.
The “All For You” trek seemed more successful. For example, instead of the single show at DC’s MCI Center scheduled in 1998, Janet moved enough tickets for three concerts there in 2001. Too bad Janet didn’t bother to do much to change the performance in the intervening three years. Actually, Janet found a framework she liked back during the 1993-94 “janet.” tour and hasn’t changed it much since then. As a result, the concerts remain enjoyable, but the lack of innovation seems disappointing.
Of course, I’ve seen Janet live nine times over the years, so I’m better acquainted with that framework. Most people would only see her once, so they wouldn’t recognize the similarities between the shows. And it’s not like Janet totally duplicates the concerts from tour to tour; sets and some other elements change, but the basic set-up remains quite similar.
Janet Jackson Live In Hawaii presents the final concert for her 2001-02 “All For You” tour. That outing progressed oddly. She started in the US during the summer of 2001 and planned to head to Europe that fall. However, Janet cancelled the overseas leg due to fears after September 11. She resumed the tour with a short US jaunt in January 2002 as she hit some smaller markets she missed the first time. The brief schedule seemed to exist mainly as warm-up for the February 16 show in Honolulu, intended for broadcast on HBO and included on this DVD, Janet Jackson Live In Hawaii. The concerts on this brief leg duplicated those seen during the earlier US outing; the Hawaiian show offered the sole stadium performance, but the staging and set remained the same as at the arena venues.
Not surprisingly, Hawaii favors material from All For You. The show features eight songs from that album: “Come On Get Up”, “You Ain’t Right”, “All For You”, “Trust a Try”, “Son of a Gun”, “Would You Mind”, “Doesn’t Really Matter” and “Someone to Call My Lover”. Velvet Rope contributes “Got ‘Til It’s Gone” and “Together Again”, while janet. offers “Again”, “That’s the Way Love Goes” and “If”. From Rhythm Nation 1814, we find “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”, “Miss You Much”, “Rhythm Nation”, “Alright”, “Black Cat”, “Escapade” and “Come Back to Me”. Control provides “What Have You Done For Me Lately”, “Control”, “Nasty”, “When I Think Of You”, and “Let’s Wait A While”, while “Runaway” comes from the greatest hits collection Design of a Decade.
As I noted, the structure of this concert highly resembles that of prior tours. Early in the show, Janet does the requisite “cool down” set in which she performs quieter songs accompanied by acoustic guitar. Not long after that, we get the “Whimsical Medley”. It combines lighter tunes like “Runaway” and “Miss You Much” and dresses Janet and the dancers as bugs, gnomes, and other cutesy characters. Another repeated motif comes during “Would You Mind”. Janet pulls a guy on stage and molests him, something she’s done the last two tours as well, though for different songs. Janet always finishes the main set with “Rhythm Nation”, and the last two tours ended the total show with “Together Again”.
While I don’t like the sameness of the different tours, one could argue that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Crowds eat up Janet’s shows and seem to enjoy all of the repeated elements, so only repeat attenders like me will complain, I suppose. Still, I’d think that Janet would have enough artistic ambition to make each tour more unique. It’s not like she goes out so frequently that severe alterations are impractical. She only hits the road every four years or so, which leaves plenty of time to create individual presentations. Each of Madonna’s five tours offered totally different affairs, so there’s no reason Janet can’t do the same.
Well, at least she changes the staging, and that offers one of the strongest elements of the “All For You” tour. Sets don’t usually impress me, but the one seen in Hawaii provides a genuinely impressive piece. This doesn’t come through very clearly on the video, but in the live setting, it looked terrific. It includes panels that move about and reveal different elements. Janet comes out on an elevator that lowers against a stark background, and eventually the set opens to reveal the band. Later in the show, the panels move to reveal a neon Chinatown setting that looked really excellent in person. Janet may not have put much thought into the setlist, but the stage shows a lot of effort and remains one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen.
Otherwise, Hawaii offers typically good but unexceptional Janet. I always enjoy her shows, but they never really stand out from the crowd. She’s clearly a much more natural and relaxed performer than she was on her first tour, but she still seems a little detached and distanced at times. She lacks the charisma of someone like Madonna and doesn’t come through as terribly dynamic, but she holds the stage fairly well. The band and dancers seem similarly competent, but they never emerge as anything remarkable. Overall, Hawaii provides a professional and lively show, but it never threatens to catch fire.
Veteran director David Mallet presents the material in his usual concise manner, though a few “innovations” mar the video. Four times during the show, the action cuts away from the stage to show “behind the scenes” clips. After “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”, “Nasty”, “Would You Mind” and “Rhythm Nation”, the cameras go backstage. The piece after “Mind” shows the ecstatic male Janet just molested as he heads back to his seat, whereas the other three offer looks at Janet as she changes costumes. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see any really juicy bits, but this still seems pretty hot.
Nonetheless, I don’t like these variations from the standard presentation. The ending of “Love Will Never Do” appears especially intrusive since it alters the music. The conclusion of the song gets muted to reflect the audio level backstage, and that ruins the song. The other numbers seemed less heavily affected, but I think that backstage material should remain in the supplements; concert videos should stay onstage.
By the way, for those who want to sneak a peek at Janet’s goodies, you get a look during the program’s prologue – maybe. The opening shows Janet on the Hawaiian beach, and she then romps toward a waterfall. She drops her top along the way, and though the view remains from behind, we get a pretty good peek at her breasts. However, I question whether or not this is actually Janet. Her face remains hidden pretty well, so I think it’s probably a body double. Maybe it actually is Janet, but the presentation makes this very unclear. It’s pretty hot anyway you cut it, though.
Too bad the concert itself doesn’t seem quite as incendiary. Overall, Janet Jackson Live In Hawaii offers a competent representation of a capable performer and a solid show. Janet always puts on a good concert, but she doesn’t seem able to take things to the highest level. Her shows remain likeable and entertaining but they lack much spark. Nonetheless, Janet appears above average as an artist and a performer, and Hawaii gives us a generally entertaining piece of work.