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MUSIC REVIEW

Janet Jackson delivers the hits but leaves fans hungry for more

By James Reed
Globe Staff / March 16, 2011

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In her defense, Janet Jackson has an awful lot of hit songs. They are the focus of her new tour, “Number Ones: Up Close and Personal,’’ but last night’s performance at the Citi Wang Theatre proved that quantity does not always trump quality.

As astonishing as it was to hear Jackson steamroll more than 25 songs — from anthems (“What Have You Done for Me Lately’’) to ballads (“Let’s Wait Awhile’’) — you could not always shake the disappointment that they were shoehorned into brisk medleys.

At one hour and 45 minutes, the show’s fleet pacing condensed some of pop’s most enduring moments into two-minute trifles that never caught fire beyond a sing-along chorus. Not even “Escapade’’ got the full-on treatment.

Still, it was an evening to remember: her first Boston show since she came to town in 2001 for the "All for You" tour. The stakes are low. She has no current record label, and her most recent studio album was 2008’s “Discipline.’’

Jackson’s latest outing is a strange animal: a modest stage production (five-piece band, three back-up singers, six dancers, three costume changes, and no wardrobe malfunction) coupled with ambitious goals for the set list. Jackson is playing smaller venues, but that did not make the Wang more intimate.

Besides, Jackson was not in an especially sentimental mood. She was too busy giving the crowd what it wanted: her signature sass on “Nasty’’ and “Control’’ and sweet surrender on “All for You’’ and “When I Think of You,’’ which she dedicated to Boston, as she has been doing in each city on this tour.

At 44, Jackson looks terrific (a little curvier, perhaps, with slicked-back hair that suits her bad-girl exterior). She stayed in step with her dancers, and she was in strong voice and as seductive as ever. “That’s the Way Love Goes’’ sounded as though it were preserved in amber, and “Rhythm Nation’’ rang out like marching orders.

During the closing “Together Again,’’ photos of Jackson with her late brother, Michael, stoked fervent applause from the audience. The song’s lyrics suddenly adopted new meaning: “What I’d give just to hold you close/ As on earth/ In heaven we will be together, baby.’’

Even on that poignant high note, you left the show feeling as if you had just filled up on morsels when all you craved was a simple meal.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.

Correction: Because of incorrect information provided to the Globe, an earlier version of this review of Janet Jackson’s concert misstated the last time Jackson performed in Boston. It was 2001.

JANET JACKSON With Mindless Behavior

At: Citi Wang Theatre, last night