The months of September and October 2019 have been extremely hectic, but very productive. This is why I have not been able to publish another blog entry until now. I am happy to be writing this particular entry because it provides me the opportunity to do two things: 1) Gush about San Francisco, and 2) Gush about Janet Jackson.
Earlier this year, when Janet announced that she would be performing in San Francisco to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of her Rhythm Nation 1814 album (“RN30“), I was suddenly perplexed.
Why? Well, I wasn’t expecting her to announce a date in San Francisco, which is only a 90-minute flight south of Seattle. I had also told myself that I wouldn’t engage in much national or international travel in 2019. (Technically, I broke this rule twice with a trip to Vancouver for my birthday and, of course…well, please read on).
Alas, Janet’s announcement introduced two opportunities in one bundle – a chance to see her perform again, and also to visit my favorite city in the United States. San Francisco – beyond a shadow of a doubt – is one of my favorite cities to visit and to photograph. It’s an intriguingly enchanting location. To not take advantage of this package deal seemed like folly — an obnoxious folly, in fact.
It took a few months for me to reach a decision. I had last seen Janet in Toronto for the “State of the World” tour in November 2017. I honestly thought that would be the ninth and final time. (Yes, you read that last line correctly. Prior to RN30, I had officially seen Janet live on stage a total of nine times since the “janet.” concert in Minneapolis back in December 1993)!
Given this prelude, I’ll just get right into the story because, believe it or not, I almost missed the opportunity to see Janet on the very day of the concert. Retrospectively, I felt like I was a fictional character in a 40-minute night time drama or 22-minute sitcom (you can decide) because of the way events unfolded. If you’re more interested in reading my review of the concert itself, please scroll down to the section titled “Made (It) for Now”.
The Displeasure Principle
On the morning of Saturday, September 21st, I hadn’t slept much. I was working on some photos and had decided I would just sleep on the plane, scheduled to depart at 7:45am from SeaTac International Airport via Alaska Airlines.
Alas, that flight was never meant to be.
Shortly before passengers were supposed to board, Alaska Airlines had announced that the plane had experienced some serious mechanical errors. Therefore, they would have to obtain another plane to take us to San Francisco. That early in the morning on a Saturday, most people made a few sour faces or grunted a bit, but I don’t recall anyone having a conniption or meltdown at the gate. We were told another plane was on its way, and we would be able to depart by 9am instead. The Janet concert started at 8pm that night. My original plan was to take the early morning flight, sleep on the plane, and explore the city for a few hours with my camera before checking into my hotel and walking to the Chase Center that evening. For now, there was still time to follow that schedule.
Much like life, rarely do the plans we make proceed accordingly to our expectations, right?
The delay to depart at 9am soon became 11am. By this time, Alaska Airlines had sent passengers an email with vouchers worth $150 as a discount towards their next flight. I rolled my eyes and sighed. I pondered about the value an airline company places on the inconvenience or disruption to a customer’s schedule. I would be upset if I had missed Janet, sure, but what if I was about to miss my sister’s wedding or an important ceremony for a family member or a connecting flight to Sydney or Singapore? Are those botched scenarios also worth $150?
Anyway, while waiting (and musing) at the gate, I had made friends with one of the flight attendants who, for no other reason but to be kind given the perpetual postponement of our flight, insisted on buying me a cup of coffee from Starbucks. Even though I had asked for a “tall” size, she surprised me with a “grande” instead. After thanking her, I began to read the September/October edition PDN Magazine to learn the latest in my industry (and also to consume time).
When Alaska Airlines mentioned that the flight had been delayed, a third time, to depart at 2pm, the groans were significantly more audible and irritable — and rightfully so. We were all supposed to have been in San Francisco going about our own respective, merry ways three hours ago. At this point, a number of passengers began to leave the gate in annoyance. I had sent a text message to my closest friend that I was starting to get upset because the concert was (at that point) in six hours, instead of 11 hours. The later I stayed in Seattle, the more of a chance I was going to miss Miss Janet’s concert (see what I did there?). My friend told me to calm down and stay focused on getting out of Seattle.
Yes. It was time to improvise.
The time was a few minutes past noon. I didn’t want to sit idly in the airport, gambling with Alaska Airlines to determine whether they were serious about a 2pm departure. I remembered that I had one piece of luggage checked in for the original flight. I decided to find one of the main kiosks for Alaska to see if I could get a flight to San Francisco via another airline. I had walked through the airport, rather aimlessly, because my emotional state was a combination of fatigued and miffed. I hadn’t slept in several hours, but I was still enthusiastic because of Janet and San Francisco. I knew it would be important to come up with a new game plan. How was I going to get to California and still be on time for the concert?
As I walked, I noticed, a few feet ahead of me, the flight attendant who had bought me some coffee. She was walking in the same direction. When I caught up with her, she told me she was getting ready to go home because we had literally reached the time of day when she was supposed to have traveled and returned from San Francisco if the original flight had taken place. She asked how I was doing and I told her. She commiserated and said she had been helping other people get to their destinations because for many passengers, San Francisco was the city to catch a connecting flight. Fortunately, for me, it was my only destination. The flight attendant had then decided she was going to help me and then “call it a day.”
And she did.
She waited with me at the kiosk. Because she was also an employee of Alaska Airlines, she communicated with the representative what had happened and stated that I needed to be booked on another flight leaving earlier than 2pm. As it turned out, there was a flight available on United Airlines. Granted, I wasn’t thrilled in the slightest about boarding United, given its utterly abysmal reputation for its horrible service to both passengers and pets, but it was the only option available. I estimated I could handle rude personnel and bad service for another 90 minutes, especially if I was asleep while it happened. The only risk that remained was my luggage. There was a 50-50 chance that it would arrive on the rescheduled booking on United.
If it did not arrive, then I was determined to attend the concert in the clothes I was wearing, which were more on the baggy side — definitely not how I would like to present myself when Janet is in town. I had so little leverage in this case that I dismissed this part of the matter and just told myself to buy some antiperspirant, body wash, and mouthwash when I got to the airport. I thanked the flight attendant wholeheartedly for helping me and gave her a hug. She had really made the day a lot more chirpy given the implications of the multiple flight delays.
To wrap this part of the article up, I did arrive in San Francisco via United Airlines, but my luggage was not on the flight. It was on the delayed Alaska Airlines flight which, thankfully, did actually leave Seattle at 2pm, thus arriving about an hour after I had landed. Funny how that worked out, just like in a night-time drama or sitcom. By the time I had left San Francisco International Airport, I had less than three hours to get into the city, check into my hotel, get dressed, and walk to Chase Center…and I did.
Before reading about the main event, please enjoy the gallery below featuring a few of my favorite images of the city in which Janet chose to perform!
Made (It) for Now
What can I say about the Chase Center? The venue is as massive as it is modern and magnificent — both the exterior and interior. Wow!
As thousands of people began their pilgrimage to this arena, the excitement of the show began to build steadily. Since I couldn’t use Ananda (my professional Sony Alpha 99 dSLR camera) to take photographs, I had to rely on my cellphone, a Samsung Galaxy 9 Plus, to capture both images and videos. In retrospect, I was rather impressed with the quality of the video footage, but not the quality of the photos. You can watch some parts of the show below and view the pictures I captured. I hope you like them.
Of course, I was definitely not the only one. Everyone was taking pictures and recording video with their cellphones. Instead of going into details about the venue itself, I’ll let the pictures set the scene and mood for you instead.
About an hour before Janet appeared, a DJ got the entire crowd currently in the arena pumped up by playing a number of popular dance, pop, and R&B songs from the 1980s and 1990s. I wasn’t a club kid in those decades, but it was when I discovered pop and dance music, and have been a fan of dance music ever since.
Here’s a sample of what we were all grooving to in the warm up to the RN30 concert.
The section in which I sat was interesting because the angle for viewing the stage was, in my view, somewhat atypical. I was in the third row of Section 101, which was an elevated portion of the arena on the left side of the stage. From where I was located, one could see both the front and the back of the stage, divided by the gigantic, cinema screen (facing the rest of the audience) that could be opened or closed, lifted or lowered, and displayed special effects around Janet and the dancers during the different numbers. This was intriguing because our section got an exclusive view of what took place behind the screen before the rest of the audience could see. As a result, throughout the show, each time Janet went behind the stage, our section could see her quite clearly and we’d cheer for her as she passed us. A few times during the show, she quickly smiled and waved at us. It was a heartwarming feeling, regardless of the brevity of the moment. The acknowledgement by one of the world’s most famous entertainers resonated within our section each time she greeted us.
That leads me to another topic I would like to bring up — Janet’s attitude and demeanor during the show. It was clear that she was in charge and she exuded a self-confidence that one achieves when one no longer has anything to prove to anyone except oneself. I say this because I had read articles and comments on social media about people complaining about her attire and that she didn’t change outfits frequently like she did in her previous concerts. Personally, I really didn’t see any problem with these petty issues. As an audience, we literally get to watch Janet Jackson do what she does best — present an outstanding experience that’s indelible in its delivery. To complain about what she’s wearing is fortunately — given where she is in her career and just who she is as a person — only problematic for the individuals who are complaining and have a need to find fault or criticize her or some aspect of the show.
Owning a show means presenting one’s own material in the way she or he feels like it. The woman is in her early 50s and still doing the choreography of ALL of her songs as though they were released into the public consciousness yesterday. She’s not just standing on the stage belting one song after another (though, that wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if she did). She’s fully engaged in the visual presentation of her body of work, so if you don’t like baggy flannel, extra large t-shirts, sweatpants or jeans — with all due respect — that’s on you as an individual. Janet presented the majority of her show wearing the same clothes, and I’m happy for her in this regard.
In her previous concerts, I can remember just how quickly she’d have to run off stage, change clothes, and still manage to keep thousands of people entertained during the brief intermissions. When she was under a record label with A&M and Virgin, she still put on spectacular shows, without a doubt, but the stress of the multiple costume changes throughout each show, from city to city, night after night, repeatedly, must be stress-inducing. I only say this because I doubt I could pull it off flawlessly even if I arduously attempted.
The point is, I think we got to see Janet being Janet — more relaxed, very much “in control”, comfortable in her own skin and public persona. During this show, there were times when she was about to perform a number and we’d see her rush from below the stage to position herself quickly behind the retractable cinema screen, preparing herself. I remember another member of the audience sitting a few rows behind me, shouting “Don’t rush it. Take your time. Take your time.” I have no idea whether Janet heard that message, but the audience member had a point. Janet is still a seasoned, professional performer and, after following her career for almost 30 years, I know she aims for perfection so, in our special spot at the venue where we could see both the front of the stage and behind the stage, divided by the cinema screen, we could often see the effort it took to prepare for the next performance when thousands of others could not.
There were several highlights for me during the show. One of them was her spectacular rendition of “The Pleasure Principle”. I must confess some bias because that is my ultimate, all-time favorite song from her entire collection. I would have been very disappointed had she not donated a minute or two to the song.
Bear in mind that Janet has had multiple hits in her inventory since the mid-1980s. She could not perform every popular single in its entirety. In fact, because she has so many hits from the last four decades, it’s no longer possible for her to even do medleys to cover all her hits within a two-hour showing. Many hit songs were not performed (i.e. “Doesn’t Really Matter”, “I Get Lonely”, “You Want This”) while she delivered many cult favorites that one might not expect to see (“Come On Get Up”, “You”, “R&B Junkie”). The majority of the songs from the set list was essentially delivered in a long-form, ongoing medley. I have presented the set list of the concert at the end of this article.
Another highlight was “Rock With You”, the second single from the “Discipline” album. Similar to “Pleasure Principle”, there’s something about this song and hearing it performed live that mesmerizes my mind. I have often been entranced by the melody, even when listening to the track in my car or during a workout.
For me, the main event of the concert was Janet’s rendition of the RN singles (which also included a brilliant performance of “The Knowledge” — a song that really should have been its own single). She had already performed “Come Back to Me” in her medley of ballads and slow jams earlier. That was the only RN single that was not included within the RN-specific segment of the show.
As I write this, please understand that RN1814 is my favorite album of all-time. I became a fan of Janet and a fan of music, in general, on account of this album and its music videos, and that hasn’t wavered or changed in three decades. I had made up my mind to go to San Francisco and see Janet for this specific time allotment of twenty minutes that she dedicated to the RN singles. This was the moment that made all the air flight delays and ridiculousness at the airport in Seattle that morning worth it all.
For this segment, Janet did change her costume, and the mood on the stage, in anticipation of what was to come, became much moodier and darker. This was not in a negative way, per se, but the atmosphere at the venue was now very reflective of the original mood of the RN1814 album’s political message and — pun both intended and unintended — the “State of the World” today.
In fact, after what could be called a new interlude that would typically be featured in between songs on a Janet studio album, she introduced the RN segment of the show with a new prelude. It was more like an introspective retrospective, if you will. (I have never been able to combine “introspective” and “retrospective” coherently, so I am proud of this small feat as I write this). The prelude, which you can listen to in the video posted below, was a reflection of what, I assume, Janet has learned and observed since RN was released in 1989. The message was thoughtful, objective, and without any pretense — again, the mark of someone who has gained confidence through experience.
As she concluded the prelude, she went into the first song from the RN segment, “State of the World”. Admittedly, what I could see from where I sat at the side of the stage must have been different from what the audience sitting directly in front of the stage could observe. I only know this because of the smaller cinema screens hovering above either side of the stage. In my section, many of us only needed to look up and slightly behind us to view what the rest of the audience was seeing, which was Janet engulfed in a series of brilliant computer-generated imagery that ranged from magnificent animation to spectacular, three-dimensional graphics. It’s the type of imagery one would enjoy on one’s computer screensaver, perhaps to the point of entrancement. That’s the best way I can describe it.
I would like to mention one specific highlight of the RN-specific segment, even though there were several of them. It was during Janet’s rendition of “Black Cat”. I remember reading that this particular song is one of the more challenging ones for Janet to present and perform live. It is truly an in-your-face hard rock number, very loud and very thunderous in its delivery. She did not disappoint with the presentation of “Black Cat” during the concert. Sitting at the side of the stage, she introduced the song with columns of blazing flames igniting on the stage. My section was so close to the side of the stage that we could literally feel the heat from the flames. It was a remarkable sensation, to say the least. If that wasn’t enough, the computer-generated imagery of a massive, sleek black panther with ferocious jaws and glowing crystal blueish-white eyes fading in and out of the darkness, only to be illuminated by lightning bolts on the screen, was mesmerizing. Once I saw it, I froze in my spot, completely in awe. Simultaneously, the whole scene was beautiful, enigmatic, terrifying, and intriguing. For me, it was virtually hypnotic to see this performance.
Another highlight, believe it or not, occurred after Janet had concluded the RN-specific segment of the show. It was such a powerful performance that the crowd, it felt, was left in full enthrallment. The lights on the stage had been extinguished when Janet and the dancers exited. In response, before Janet returned for her encore performance (consisting of “All for You” and “Made for Now”), there was this glorious brilliance of illumination generated by hundreds of people switching on the flashlights of their individual cellphones throughout the arena. Each light resembled a large firefly floating through the air inside the Chase Center. It was so beautiful to see this sight that it — much like Janet’s performance — left me speechless. There was a blissful unity in the audience that existed for several minutes before Janet returned. It was heartwarming.
I’ve written quite a bit here, and I would prefer not to narrate the entire concert or the RN-specific segment. I really believe if one gets the opportunity to see Janet perform in person, he or she must grab the opportunity. I have been fortunate enough to have seen her perform 10 times in my life — once during the “janet.” (Minneapolis), three times for “The Velvet Rope” (New Jersey & New York), twice for “All for You” (Kansas City & Denver), once for “Rock Witchu” (Toronto), once for the “Number Ones” (Toronto), and once for “State of the World” (also, Toronto).
Alas, my account of Janet’s concerts are always going to be glowing. I managed to record the majority of the RN segment of the concert, which you can view above. It’s about 20 minutes long. I recorded it because I knew there would be many fans around the world who will not get the opportunity to see this concert. As a result, I have also posted videos from the concert in this article, so please feel free to watch and download them. However, the RN segment video is a massively large file (1.6 GB) and cannot be downloaded here. If you would like a copy of it for your own files, please visit my official website, click on “Contact”, scroll all the way down and send me a request referencing the “RN30 video”. I’ll send you a link so you can download it!
As much as Janet loves her fans, it is also true that there is a love that connects Janet’s fans to each other, which appears to get stronger and more visceral year after year. I’m sharing these videos solely out of love for the fellow fans — those who I know and have met, those who I know and have never met, and all the fans around the world who love Janet and her music as much as I do.
Enjoy, and thanks for reading this article.
We’re a part of the Rhythm Nation forever.
The 30th Anniversary of Rhythm Nation set list was as follows, in order:
After the set list above, the most popular songs from Rhythm Nation 1814 were performed in the following order:
Janet’s encore performance included the following songs:
Thanks for reading this article. If you enjoyed the photographs here, please visit my official website @ www.tia-international-photography.com for an indelible, visual experience.