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Timberlake brings some substance to the spectacle

While the rest of the world was wondering how Justin Timberlake would ever choose between Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel, Timberlake was making every effort to persuade 18,135 fans in Boston that he deserved the tabloid attention.

Grand spectacle was the goal and classy was the guiding principle last night: Timberlake wore a three-piece suit, and his male singers dressed in similar Cotton Club attire. The female vocalists were draped in cocktail dresses and a small army of dancers -- they came, brilliantly, in all sizes and shapes -- were tasteful to a T.

Timberlake's was arguably the most elaborate concert set ever erected at the Garden. A winding series of performance spaces connected by staircases filled much of the arena floor, with band members situated on both sides of the structure. Massive, semi-circular scrims encased pieces of the stage, doubling as gauzy video screens during the two-and-a-half-hour show.

In concept, the production was exceptionally artful and inventive. In reality, for big chunks of the performance, the star was half-hidden by his own image, blown up on a screen.

At first, the concert's size and scope was thrilling. After a while though, the absence of a focal point and the endless relocating became a distraction. The minute you got Timberlake in your sights, he was gone.

It was a classic case of overkill, and it's too bad because Timberlake never quite had the chance to command the stage with his gorgeous, fluid dancing and spotless singing. Still, he careened valiantly through every song on last year's "FutureSex/LoveSounds," several tracks from his 2002 solo debut "Justified," and half of an 'N Sync tune ("Gone") for old time's sake.

Realizing there was no chance of transposing the wicked sharp edges and complicated layers of the studio recordings to the stage, Timberlake -- who proved himself a capable guitarist and pianist -- and a large stable of support players substituted a rumbling, gargantuan sound mix.

Timberlake made another conceptual misstep bringing his producer Timbaland on tour. It sounds great on paper and no one can blame the behind-the-scenes superstar for craving a corner of the spotlight, but Timbaland's heavy-handed, 20-minute DJ set was a mid-concert buzz kill.

By contrast, Pink opened the show with a smart, funny, joyful handful of pop-rock tunes -- and a memorable lesson in just how gratifying a simple song and dance can be.

Joan Anderman can be reached at