On his new album, Justin Timberlake is a Man of the Woods. Thursday night at Paisley Park, he also proved he is a man of the people. Although the main platform in the soundstage at Prince’s complex was outfitted with gear all night, Timberlake never set foot on it, even when addressing the crowd; instead, he opted to mingle with his guests and blend in with the crowd, becoming just another in a sea of fans who danced and sang along with the night’s surprise headliner, the Revolution.
“I can’t believe we’re at Paisley Park right now. I can’t believe the Revolution are going to play tonight! I’m going to be fangirling,” Timberlake gushed, welcoming attendees to the party. “I just had a birthday, and this is my birthday party.”
The night was billed as a listening experience in celebration of his Man of the Woods, which was officially released at midnight. In an email sent to guests before the show, the roughly 1,000-odd American Express cardholders and VIPs were promised “a fully immersive listening experience that will serve as a complementary layer to the full-length LP” — which, it turns out, meant a Paisley Park soundstage cleared of any Prince memorabilia and decked out in fake trees and shrubs; massive video screens flashing images of barns, bonfires, leaves and snowy fields; and Timberlake, dressed in a stocking cap and red cable-knit sweater, bobbing his way through the crowd as his album played from start to finish.
“I figured this place would have the best speakers in the world,” he said. As video cameras zoomed overhead and a livestream of the party went live on social media, Timberlake shouted giddily, “I love you, Prince!”
As the mostly upbeat dance tracks on Man of the Woods blasted through the speakers overhead, the well-dressed audience sipped cocktails, grabbed appetizers and macarons off trays that continually glided past, posed for photos in front of a tiny rustic cabin, and gawked at the celebrities in the room (like Questlove, Issa Rae, Ciara, the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and countless other athletes). Despite the album’s name and imagery, these were not the introspective, soul-searching songs you might think a man wandering through the woods would create; instead, they had a direct lineage to Timberlake’s previous dance-infused pop work, and provided an apt, if sometimes forgettable, soundtrack to the night’s festivities.
A few moments after the album finished playing, large black sheets were lifted off of the Revolution’s instruments and the band took the stage without introduction to launch into “America,” shifting the focus toward the stage for the first time. By the end of the song half of the audience had rushed toward the front of the stage to dance, and Timberlake settled in next to his wife, Jessica Biel, raising his drink and looking starry-eyed as the band muscled through their set. In an especially endearing moment during “Raspberry Beret,” Timberlake turned to Biel, who was dressed in a dark purple beret, and sang “I think I lo-o-o-o-ove you,” pulling her in for a kiss.
The Revolution sounded as tight and rehearsed as ever, mixing longer jams like “Mountains” and an especially satisfying deconstruction of “Controversy” alongside familiar anthems like “1999,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and “When Doves Cry.” And unlike their set on Tuesday evening on Nicollet Mall, at this show Wendy took every opportunity to show off her prowess on the guitar, absolutely nailing the solo on “Purple Rain” and creating a truly transcendent moment for the audience. As she played, she walked over to the left side of the stage and seemed to point her guitar straight toward Timberlake, who raised his glass in a quiet gesture of reverence and bowed his head in awe.