When Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake first announced their Legends of the Summer tour, it seemed like a pretty even match-up, if favouring the actual legend onstage, Jay-Z, who dropped his all-time classic debut "Reasonable Doubt" in 1996, back when Timberlake was barely known for his brief stint as a Mouseketeer.
But it looks like Jay-Z may have to learn how to play second fiddle if Legends of the Summer's launch at Toronto's sold-out Rogers Centre is any indication because Justin Timberlake shockingly stole the show.
Jay-Z has been upending the traditional notion of big headliner and small opening act since back in 2003 when he brought along 50 Cent on tour at the height of his Get Rich or Die Trying popularity. Though those crowds were mostly excited to hear the bullet-riddled "In Da Club" rapper, Fiddy was quickly put in his place when Jay waltzed out and proved why he topped the bill as he rolled out hit after hit after hit.
He raised the stakes a few years later with a star-crossed co-headlining tour alongside R. Kelly, which collapsed in chaos after their battling egos became an actual battle -- Kelly told the crowd at Madison Square Gardens that people were waving guns at him and then refused to perform, a scuffle backstage resulted in Kelly being pepper-sprayed and sent to hospital while Jay went on radio afterward claiming the R&B singer was too 'insecure" to handle the crowd's love for him.
Last year's Watch the Throne tour was a more collaborative co-headlining bill with Kanye West, with the pair taking turns doing solo sets and joint performances from their Watch the Throne album. But Hov remained the alpha dog because he's maybe the only person in the world that 'Ye places above himself, a relationship established back when Jay hired a then-unknown Kanye to produce his classic Blueprint and then released the producer's rap debut, The College Dropout.
So Legends of the Summer is the kind of tour that Jay-Z does, and he does them because his dominance has never before been an issue. Besides, as much as Timberlake is loved, he only has three albums, with the first being uneven and the third, "The 20/20 Experience," but a few months old.
That turned out to make no difference, though, since the pinnacle of JT's performance, that epic moment when a song shoots for anthem and the crowd gets their damn hands up, was actually his latest single "Mirrors," cementing its future-classic status.
Jay-Z, on the other hand, peaked with "Empire State of Mind," but the crowd catharsis came from singing along to the taped Alicia Keys chorus rather than Jay's fleet-footed verses. And even that song was bookended by Timberlake crooning (!) "New York, New York" like he was a '50s big band leader. (Hell, he is a big band leader now, with his 15-piece Tennessee Kids backing both artists performances.)
Maybe the issue was the sheer size of the football stadium, which made it more difficult for the 50,000 fans to appreciate Jay's ever-present virtuosity. Certainly he didn't lack in classic hits, and the excitement level went way up on more rock-oriented jams like "99 Problems" and "On To The Next One" or beloved anthems like "H to the Izzo."
But Jay-Z's thing is that he's cool, collected and incredibly skilled, but that also means his general energy level is pretty low-key. Timberlake, however, is an old-school showman, singing and dancing, playing piano and guitar and defeating the size of the stadium to bring the crowd into the performance, especially on epic slow-burners like "Cry Me A River" and "What Goes Around.. Comes Around." He even brought them onside for his "baby butt spanking new" just-released single off his next new album, the Jackson-esque "Take Back The Night."
They also shared the stage for a good portion of the show, albeit with Timberlake participating more in Jay-Z's tunes than the reverse, voicing the cop on "99 Problems," singing the hooks on "Heart of the City," "Frontin,'" and others while playing instruments on still more. In fact, his not-singing the hooks on "Empire" or "Run This Town" felt like squandered opportunities, especially after opening with "Holy Grail," the pair's title-track collab off Jay-Z's current number one album "Magna Carta Holy Grail." Though, again, that really came off like a Timberlake tune with a Jay-Z feature despite it actually being the reverse.
The emotional highlight of the show was also a shared performance, with the pair following their lackluster encore collab "Suit & Tie" with a moving, Trayvon Martin-dedicated take on "Young Forever."
There's no doubt that Legends of the Summer lived up to its epic billing, but as the duo walked off in their suit jackets, it was clear that Justin was the surprising Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z would have to settle for being Dean Martin.