Janet Jackson Hits Stride on Tour

The singer unleashes her brand of flashy, danceable tunes on Madison Square Garden

WITH her brother currently embroiled in legal and other troubles, it is up to Janet to maintain the Jackson-family dominance of the album charts and the concert scene. She has done just that with her latest release, ``janet,'' on Virgin Records, and her current world tour. The album has become one of the year's most successful, and her four shows at New York's Madison Square Garden, including New Year's Eve, sold out.

Although her music doesn't have the sophistication or range of Michael's, she has nothing to be ashamed of. Her show is a state-of-the-art example of choreography and flashiness.

You won't find improvisation or spontaneity here, but you will find an arena spectacle to rival Madonna's or anyone's on the scene today.

Jackson's nearly two-hour show included all of the hits from her last three albums. With its huge multilevel set, army of backup singers and dancers, multiple video screens, array of costumes, and deafening fireworks display, the show was not exactly a mellow experience. Even the quieter moments had intensity.

Jackson called for the audience to say a silent prayer for her brother Michael (strangely enough, this occurred after the song ``Nasty Boy''), and during the ballad ``Again,'' she indulged in the favorite Jackson trick of stopping the performance for what seemed like minutes while breaking down in tears.

Although much of the material stayed true to the recorded versions, Jackson demonstrated that she was willing to play with the material. She gave a different vocal spin, for instance, to ``What Have You Done For Me Lately,'' and allowed other songs, such as the technopop ``Throb,'' to play out in funkier, elongated versions.

She is not much of a singer, her voice being thin and in some of the more up-tempo songs rather shrill, but with her material and the lavish production values it hardly seemed to matter. She got solid support from her backup singers.

Jackson also seemed to have fun, bringing a male audience member (possibly planted ahead of time) onto the stage. If the choreography was at times somewhat overwrought - such as in the final production number that featured violent female revenge against an abusive man - it also achieved the ostensible goal of re-creating an MTV video live onstage. Indeed, many clips of Jackson's videos were shown during the performance, forcing the performer to compete with herself.

The production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis created for the singer a string of polished dance-oriented hits (``Rhythm Nation,'' ``Control,'' and ``Black Cat'') that have forged her place in pop music. These songs were shown off to sleek advantage in concert.

Jackson performed like the show-business phenomenon she has become. Dancing up a storm, she still managed to display a winning personality which showed that, unlike her sibling, she has managed to keep her feet on the ground.

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