Although she had been sidelined by flu earlier in the week, canceling shows in three cities, Janet Jackson was in fine form Saturday for her near-sellout show at the Hartford Civic Center.
Standing triumphantly atop a 30-foot pedestal to start the show (and eventually joined by a half dozen dancers lowered from the ceiling), she dug in early for the complicated ensemble dance moves accompanying her newest songs, wearing a tough face.
She was all smiles, though, as she sat to sing a number of her sweeter ballads alongside her guitarist. As in a number of segments in the two-hour show, she combined like songs in medleys, with sometimes just a verse and chorus of each hit before it was on to the next. How else to fit in so many favorites?
The medleys came in elaborate settings, often with their own costumes that were often at odds with the segments that followed. To emphasize the sweetness and light of her breezy songs such as "Runaway," "Miss You Much," "When I Think of You" and "Escapade," she and her dancers dressed as cheery figures out of children's books, surrounded by blowup candy and toys.
When it was immediately followed by the nasty Jackson of "Son of a Gun," spouting vulgarities and grabbing other peoples' crotches, it was a jolting shift from "Sesame Street" to streetwalker.
Later, in skintight vinyl and studs, she took on the role of dominatrix, pulling a fan out of the audience, strapping him down on a board and sexing him up to the point where his bandana nearly flew off.
Jackson's a bit of everything for everybody, which explained why such a wide range of fans grooved along to her striking show. It wasn't only her sculpted body - which, at 35, never looked better - that excited the fans. It was also the body of work she's produced over 15 years with ace writers and producers Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam.
If her flu manifested itself at all, it was in the shortening of the usual set. "If" and "Black Cat" were cut from a fancifully lit Chinatown segment, leaving just "Rhythm Nation."
There were some miscues in the show, as in the garish costumes for "Trust a Try" and the busy, gaudy ensemble in "Alright."
Jackson's voice has never been one of pop's strongest, but the force of her personality and sharp dancing easily won over the fans.