It's funny to think back on 2001 when Steelers fans were inflamed that their beloved new stadium was being christened/cursed by a dreaded boy-band, namely 'N Sync.
Just a dozen years later, complaints about its frontman taking that honor would be few and far between. Justin Timberlake, still only 32, is a new King of Pop contender, having cultivated an image of a Michael Jackson-style pop/R&B talent in a Rat Pack suit.
JT's talents were back on lavish display Saturday night at the Consol Energy Center in his first show here since 2007. He's touring at the tail end of a triumphant comeback year, having topped the charts with both "The 20/20 Experience" and its sequel "The 20/20 Experience - 2 of 2."
He clearly loves this mixed bag of material, because for more than nearly three hours he played most of the 22 songs from those albums, while also hitting highlights from his first two solo releases and a few choice covers. No lip service to 'N Sync like the last time.
In his boy-band days, he had some wild get-ups. Now, he's all about the suit-and-tie -- or black tux -- and that formality extended to his backup dancers and his 15-piece Tennessee Kids, with their Copa-style bandstands.
"I see you dressed up very nice," he said to some fans up front. "I did too," he added, tugging on his tie.
The stage looked like a million bucks too (no, more than that), with a backdrop made of hexagons that stretched the width of the floor and extended upward. It functioned as a cool screen while also shooting lights, lasers and strobes.
It actually looked better than it sounded, because going for a booming club volume, the result was loud and tinny, obliterating some of the music's intimacy.
He arrived with "Pusher Love Girl," launching the hour-long first set heavy on "20/20" and "FutureSex/LoveSound" songs. This was super slick dance-pop, delivered with an impenetrable wall of sound. His tenor and falsetto vocals were as silky as his MJ-like dance moves on "Rock Your Body," "TKO" and "Don't Hold the Wall" and the 'N Sync-sounding "Summer Love."
The response, of course, was a steady stream of screams from the 20-something female fans, many of whom have been along for this ride since before "Bye Bye Bye."
The set ended with JT at a sparkling baby grand for the ballad "Until the End of Time" and then mashing the "Holy Grail" opening into a "Cry Me a River" carried by his backup singers and spiked with a metal guitar solo.
The second set opened hitting the "2 of 2" dance groove hard with a laser-fired "Only When I Walk Away" and "True Blood." The band crowded to the front of the stage where Mr. Timberlake strummed an overly cranked acoustic guitar for "Drink You Away."
For the coolest trick of the night, the foot of the stage got up and moved to the back of the arena, carrying Mr. Timberlake and a small contingent, including his sexiest dancers -- all bravely untethered -- during "Let the Groove Get In"/"Shining Star."
He might be a King of Pop, but this Memphis product is no King of Rock as he demonstrated on a tepid "Heartbreak Hotel." It led into a thin version of Michael's "Human Nature" that wrapped around a lovely "What Goes Around ... Comes Around."
The final 45 minutes was worth the price of admission with a funky party vibe on "Cabaret" and "Take Back the Night" into "Jungle Boogie" into "Murder." He finished by pouring out the top-shelf stuff: a smooth, classy "Suit & Tie," the slamming synth rock of "Sexyback" and a big loud finale of "Mirrors."
A few times there he broke into "The Roof is on Fire," which was appropriate because there's no denying that at full steam JT and the Tennessee Kids got that place hot on a cold, wet night.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pg. First Published December 14, 2013 11:28 PM