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Janet Jackson performs live to a packed Sony Centre in Toronto on Saturday. (Tim Fraser/The Globe and Mail)
Janet Jackson performs live to a packed Sony Centre in Toronto on Saturday. (Tim Fraser/The Globe and Mail)

Music: Concert review

Up close and personal, Janet Jackson is in her element Add to ...

Janet Jackson At the Sony Centre in Toronto on Saturday

As a photomontage reminded the audience on Saturday and Sunday night, Janet Jackson has a predilection for showing skin. But now it's her new 35-city concert Number Ones: Up Close and Personal that could best be described as stripped down.

In Toronto for two performances at the Sony Centre, the chart-topping artist concealed her midsection, staved off any wardrobe malfunctions and curtailed the highly charged simulated sex moves that have become expected in her live shows.

Jackson also proved that she no longer needs elaborate stage sets or pyrotechnics to captivate her fans. They really just want to hear, dance and sing along to Escapade, Miss You Much and All for You.

With 3,000 seats, the Sony Centre is considerably smaller than the stadium-sized venues she has filled on previous visits (the most recent in 2008) and suggested a Vegas vibe. Jackson wanted this tour to be more intimate, she explains in a two-minute video on her website that also played before she arrived on stage.

Really, "up close and personal" comes across as smart spin. While she's an undeniable music legend - and not just because she's Michael's little sis - there's the question of whether she can still fill a massive arena. More intimate equals less risk.

Then there's the fact that Jackson turns 45 in May. She remains in especially fine form- sculpted body, taut face, close-cropped spiky hair - and comes across as comfortable and confident, no showboating necessary.

But her Number Ones album came out in 2009 and despite a role in last year's film For Colored Girls and a new self-help book, True You, the tour is clearly an important way for her to stay connected with fans.

She even invited them to choose the 35 stops and for each city, she dedicates a song. Toronto got Come Back to Me, a romantic, yearning slow jam from Rhythm Nation 1814.

The concert opened with the original video from 1990 projected onto the large screen at stage rear. It made for an unusual moment since the audience was expecting her to appear. She held off until the song's end but then immediately broke into The Pleasure Principle, which she followed with six additional up-tempo crowd pleasers (including Control and What Have You Done for Me Lately).

To cram in upward of 30 hits in a 90-minute show (plus an extended encore) meant that the songs were grouped together as medleys and teasingly shortened in a way that only someone suffering from attention deficit disorder would appreciate.

The most prolonged moments, in fact, occurred when Jackson was backstage and the audience was treated to the aforementioned glamour shots and snippets of her small and big screen roles ( Good Times, Diff'rent Strokes, Poetic Justice).

Six-pack ab flaunting aside, Jackson is best known for militaristic-meets-futuristic ensembles. Her five outfit changes for the concert spanned fembot jumpsuit to ultra-feminine evening gown, black sporty sparkly street wear to shiny all-white suit with exaggerated shoulders. There was nothing subtle about her ample cleavage, which glistened as she bopped, grooved and glided across the stage.

If anything, it's difficult to watch her dance without thinking of her brother. Indeed Michael was acknowledged at various points along the way, although she never spoke his name. Scream, their one duet, lived up to its title as far as the crowd's reaction, easily the loudest of the night despite being one of her lesser hits.

Seeing Jackson in concert is less about her vocal range than her command of countless choreographed moves to catchy songs that you find you know the words to. She's in her element performing live, transitioning smoothly from fierce and aggressive to sweet and giggly. Most of all, she's no substitute for Michael but she's the closest we've got.

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