Justin Timberlake performs with FreeSol at Souther Hospitality in New York, August 31, 2011 (Photo: Michael Stewart/WireImage)
"I did a country song," Justin Timberlake said last night, addressing a rapt audience packed into his New York restaurant, Southern Hospitality, "I just disguised it as something else."
And with that, Timberlake, in a straw fedora and playing an acoustic guitar, and backed by members of the Memphis band FreeSol, launched into a softer version of his chart-topping 2002 hit "What Goes Around… Comes Around," in front of an enthusiastic crowd that included newlyweds Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.
The performance of "What Goes Around… Comes Around" came in the middle of a surprise set from Timberlake and FreeSol, the Memphis hip hop, rock and soul fusion band he signed to his Tennman imprint through Interscope in 2006. The show had been announced via Timberlake's Twitter account yesterday afternoon with the tweet, "NYC!!! Wanna check out some live music tonight?? Meet me and @freesol at 45th & 9th at 11pm.," and by the time Timberlake and FreeSol stepped behind the mics in the small space at the front, the restaurant had been mobbed with fans. Inside, camera phones danced above the crowd as everyone tried to capture their moment in the presence of the pop superstar while, outside, fans pressed against the restaurant's windows and climbed on top of phone booths for a better view.
Earlier in the evening, Timberlake and Tennman/Interscope had hosted an invite-only FreeSol listening at New York's Jungle City Studios. As the band -- lyricist Free, keyboardist Premo D'Anger, drummer Kickman Teddy, guitarist E Ives, and DJ Charlie White -- as well as FreeSol manager Charlie Walker, Timberlake, and several members of the media milled about, selections from FreeSol's upcoming debut, "No Rules," played over the studio monitors. "No Rules" is executive produced by Timberlake and due Oct. 11.
The event also featured a screening of two videos shot in support of the project, for the singles "Hoodies On, Hats Low" and "Role Model." Both videos were shot in Memphis and co-directed by Timberlake. Timberlake appears prominently on "Role Model," which has yet to be released, and the video offered a stark, black and white vision of love and anarchy. At the listening, E Ives said he was excited about the upcoming release and described delivering the album as "a relief."
Despite the frenzied crush of fans, press and celebrities (which also included Timberlake's "In Time" costar Amanda Seyfried), the event appeared to go off without a hitch.
Several NYPD cruisers lined the block outside the restaurant but there were no reports of incidents. And the crowd loved every minute of it, especially "What Goes Around… Comes Around," which found the whole bar singing along.
"Thanks for your help," Timberlake said, with a smile as the song wound down. "It's been a long time."
Timberlake and FreeSol will play another free show tonight at New York's Irving Plaza for what is being billed as National 901 Day. The event is intended to promote FreeSol as well as 901 Silver Tequila, Timberlake's tequila venture launched in partnership with Palm Bay International and named after the area code of Memphis, Timberlake's (and FreeSol's) hometown. Tonight's show is scheduled to begin at 9:01pm.