Rock music: Janet Jackson gets lost in her own limelight

ONE DAY, Janet Jackson may rearrange her songs for piano and voice and schedule an intimate tour of the country's jazz and blues clubs, but it's safe to say that that day won't arrive until Madonna, Kiss, Jean- Michel Jarre and the cast of Beauty and the Beast: The Musical have done the same thing. More than anyone else in pop, Janet - she and I aren't quite on first-name terms, but on some posters she has dropped the Jackson - can be relied upon to put on an enormous theatrical extravaganza. If pounds 22.50 seemed steep for a ticket to her performance at the SECC in Glasgow on Wednesday, once you'd seen the mobile video screens, the surreal stage sets, the dancing troupe, the many costumes and the pyrotechnics, you wondered how she managed to break even.

Janet's concerts are the pop equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie, with all the explosions, special effects, ersatz sentimentality, gratuitous cleavage and emphasis on spectacle over coherence that the term implies. You want thrills and chills? How about that creepy routine that went with "You", in which the dancers wore masks on the front and back of their heads? You want titillation? On "Ropeburn", Janet made one fan's fondest dream and worst nightmare come true at the same time. He was plucked from the audience and strapped to a chair so that a semi-clad, pole-dancing Janet could give him a close-up of her Wonderbra. The nightmare? The entire audience was given a close-up of his anguished, ecstatic face on the screens.

Speaking as someone who believes that there's no pop concert, from Tony Bennett to The Fall, that wouldn't be enhanced by a line of dancing girls and a firework display, I was worn out by this numbingly relentless multimedia onslaught. There were no dynamics, no chance for us to catch our breath. At one point, Janet announced that she was going to slow down the pace, and she sat on a stool, with a man next to her who was cradling an acoustic guitar. You don't have to have seen many arena concerts to know that stools plus acoustic equals the MTV Unplugged part of the set, in which songs are stripped down to their vulnerable essence. But, as we've already seen, the phrase "stripping down" holds just one meaning for Janet, and this isn't it . As the ballad started, the spotlights shifted to the back of the stage, where five other musicians and two backing singers emerged, ready to weigh in and drown out the poor guitarist's every note.

They drowned out Janet as well. As on her last tour, she appeared to be almost as overwhelmed by the distractions around her as I was. Her voice was all but obliterated by the whipcrack drumming, and any vaguely authentic emotion was crushed under the heel of the military Jacksonfunk, as inflexible and joyless as the choreography.

It might have helped if there had been a few more tunes and a few less gasping pseudo-raps. The songs on which Janet did have a melody to work with, particularly the classic "Together Again", proved just how brightly she can sparkle when she lets the visuals enhance the music instead of replace it.

Funnily enough, Janet Jackson is a not too distant relation of Garbage (not literally, thankfully for them). Like her, they make finely calibrated, armour-plated, futuristic pop music, sung by a woman with a seething, sadomasochistic persona. The difference is that at the Brixton Academy on Thursday, that persona dominated the gig rather than vice versa. Shirley Manson didn't have a chorus line and half a dozen flamethrowers to contend with, but she gave the impression that she would have relished the challenge.

Manson has grown into a unique frontwoman: sleazier, more aggressive, but also cooler and more controlled than any of her peers, with a voice that gets mightier all the time. She never stays still. When she's not singing, she's snarling anti-London comments; and when she is singing, she's also playing the guitar, out-raunching Janet with her dancing, or marching around her territory, restless as a boxer, before a backdrop that appears to be a sheet of giant bubblewrap. She is the person that Kylie Minogue dreams of being.

The rest of the band just about keep up with her, with Steve Marker threatening, if not to steal the show, then certainly to borrow it without asking. He has shaved his head, donned goggles and a black T-shirt, and metamorphosed from the rather podgy nerd of yore to a menacing, burly bouncer. It's quite possible that the exercise he gets from wrestling with his guitar was the only work-out required to complete this transformation. He and his fellow Garbagemen, Butch Vig, Duke Erikson, and a part-time bassist, made music that was a white-knuckle, virtual-reality rollercoaster ride. Any advertising executive worth his expense account should get on the cellphone right away: his worries about finding a soundtrack for his latest quick-cut trainer commercial are over.

I saw Garbage at their first ever UK gig, and if you'd told me back then in 1995 what they would be like three years later ... well, I don't suppose I would have been at all surprised. Thursday's show was the first in a European tour to promote Version 2.0 (Mushroom), and as the album title as good as admits, they've refined the blueprint that their first of their four-million-selling debut draws up - piling on yet more instruments, effects, loops and samples - but they've stuck to that blueprint none the less.

The songs sound pretty much like those on the first album, and the songs on the first album sound pretty much like each other. In concert, they could swap around the running order, swap around lines of lyrics, even swap whole choruses and it wouldn't make a great deal of difference. As much of a blast as their show was, I knew what it would consist of before I went. Three years before I went, roughly.

Janet Jackson: Wembley Arena (0181 900 1234), tonight & 17 June. Garbage: Manchester Apollo (0161 242 2560), tonight; Wolverhampton Civic (01902 552121), Mon; Portsmouth Guildhall (01705 824355), Tues.

Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SAP Data Migration Consultant, circa £65,000, Manchester

    £55000 - £75000 per annum: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP Data Migration ...

    SAP Data Migration Consultant, circa £65,000, Manchester

    £55000 - £75000 per annum: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP Data Migration ...

    MS Dynamics NAV Developer

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: MS Dynamics NAV...

    Technical / Engineering Manager - West Yorkshire - £50k+

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: The company ...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star