Photo: Getty Images for DirecTV
Years from now, when event planners begin figuring out what might make their event talk of the town during Super Bowl week, they'll look back and cite what happened in New Orleans on Saturday night.
For more than a week, folks buzzed about DirecTV's announcement that Justin Timberlake would perform at their Saturday night affair, hosted by Mark Cuban's AXS TV; the news came on the heels of announcing his new album, "The 20/20 Experience."
The idea that Timberlake -- who recently released "Suit and Tie," a new track with Jay-Z -- would perform was noteworthy: this would be the first time he'd grace a stage in five years.
Smartly, Timberlake opened the show at DTV SuperFan stadium with a tune that set the tone for his solo career, "Justified"'s "Like I Love You." Once the red curtains popped up, and his 13-piece band and four backup singers were revealed -- it had the look of a Duke Ellington big band set -- we could see Timberlake donning a black suit, white shirt and hair brushed back.
And for nearly two hours, he commandeered the microphone as if he never left it for Hollywood half a decade ago.
Timberlake took us through a myriad of selections -- "My Love," "Cry Me A River," and "Summer Love" -- reminding us why he so easily transitioned from boy band singer to a respect-commanding solo artist who made veteran R&B performers sit up and take notice.
"If it's alright with you, I'm about to do a new song right now. This is from my upcoming album," he told the crowd, which drew one of the night's loudest rounds of applause.
Timberlake treated the crowd to new songs -- one was a falsetto slower track, "Pusher Love Girl," that sounded much like what one of his inspirations, Prince, might release.
He showed off his musical prowess many times during the night -- impressing the VIP crowd with his guitar, keyboard and piano-playing abilities. Another new song, "That Girl," had him declaring "… I'm in love with that girl, so don't be mad at me."
Timberlake took it back to his boy band roots often – proving that just because his music got smarter after leaving N'Sync, his moves didn't get dusty. He did savvy dance breaks to "Senorita" with his back up dancers, and later in the show, when he performed a funked-up version of Michael Jackson's "Shake Your Body Down To The Ground," he got down and dirty, proclaiming that he was "shoveling the funk."
He covered INXS, and by the time he sang some hits from "Future/Love/Sex/Songs," it was beginning to feel like a set closer. Timberlake allowed the lights to go down, pop back up, and delighted the crowd with beatboxing before performing "Rock Your Body."
Of course much of the buzz of the night was if Jay-Z would perform with Timberlake. It had been announced a few days ago that Jay would be in town hosting a private cognac tasting at the same time of Timberlake's would-be return.
Thankfully, before the night's end, Jay-Z did grace the stage for them to perform -- for the first time -- their new track together. But as Jay made his way off the stage, Timberlake said he wasn't done yet.
He looked behind him and was joined on stage by his mentor and frequent collaborator Timbaland, and the two performed a sweat-worthy version of "Sexy/Back."
Before the house lights came back up, folks in the audience were declaring this the moment of the week. And it was. Super Bowl game withstanding, of course.