It took only until mid-August, but a championship-caliber team finally performed up to expectations at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night.
It wasn't the local nine that wowed the youthful, racially mixed crowd from their perch in center field in the home of the Phillies. It was a winning duo of multitaskers from out of town: rapper and entertainment mogul Jay Z and R&B singer and actor Justin Timberlake, who brought their 2-hour, 20-minute show to an audience of nearly 40,000 in South Philadelphia on the penultimate stop of their "Legends of the Summer" tour.
The Jay Z and JT collaborative pact, which found the duo often sharing the stage on a set list that stretched to more 30 songs, makes strategic sense, in matters of music and business. Hip-hop hits are made of rapped verses and hooks that are sampled or sung by pop vocalists; R&B hits often include cameos by guest rappers.
The 43-year-old emcee and the 32-year-old singer guest on the lead singles from each others' new albums. With backing by the Tennessee Kids, Timberlake's terrifically tight big band (whose musical director and bass player Adam Blackstone and drummer Brian Moore are both Philadelphians), the singer crooned on "Holy Grail," from Jay Z's Magna Carta, the exploration of fame as a booby prize that opened the show.
And Jay Z rapped on "Suit & Tie," the hit from Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience, for which the duo donned suit jackets and sipped from champagne flutes as part of a low-key, anticlimactic encore that also included Jay's "Young Forever," dedicated to slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
The former N'Syncer and the hip-hop honcho have separate mega-million-dollar contracts with concert company Live Nation and side deals with Anheuser-Busch. Timberlake moonlights for Bud Light Platinum, and the mogul born Shawn Carter curates the Budweiser Made in America festival, which returns to the Ben Franklin Parkway on Labor Day weekend. (Timberlake will play the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 10, in support of the second volume of The 20/20 Experience, which comes out Sept. 30.)
Throughout the night, Timberlake displayed his musical dexterity. He did his best Michael Jackson on a cover of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" that morphed into Jay Z's "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)." He sat at the piano for "Until the End of Time," which he said was for opposite- and same-sex couples alike. He gave a shout-out to the late Bobby "Blue" Bland before "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)." And he crunched out power chords on guitar on Jay's "99 Problems."
For all of his formidable capabilities, Timberlake never quite captures the incandescent brilliance of his obvious models, Jackson and Prince, though the lewd funk of "SexyBack" quite effectively borrowed from the latter's "Kiss." He was out of his league (and sounded like the former Mouseketeer he is), however, when singing Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" as an intro to "Empire State of Mind."
That song, more than any other, demonstrated Jay-Z's supreme command of his audience. What other pop performer could succeed in getting a sports stadium full of Philadelphians to sing out, "Let's hear it for New York!" at the top of their lungs?
Only Hov, as his devotees call him. (That's short for Jay-Hova). Jay Z's subject matter has begun to get stale, with too many songs comparing himself to famous painters and sharing the view from the highest rung of society. But his ability to change up his flow and navigate intricate rhythms still gives his music a vital pulse.
Along with charisma to spare, he's got nearly two decades of catalog to pull from. At the ballpark, in addition to the opening "Holy Grail," he did only the fashion-designer ode "Tom Ford" and one other song, whose title cannot be printed here, from his new album.
Otherwise, it was a steady stream of impressively delivered hits, including "Big Pimpin' " and "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" and "N - in Paris," from his Kanye West collaboration, Watch the Throne.
Those songs inspired much ardor, with fans holding their hands in the shape of diamonds in the sky to show their devotion. But the open-air room didn't belong to Jay Z any more than to JT.
It was an equal partnership as they traded hits down the stretch, with Timberlake's self-loving "Mirrors" holding its own with Jay's triumphant "Run This Town," for instance, as the show peaked before petering out in the encore.
Contact Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628, email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @delucadan. Read his blog, "In the Mix," at www.inquirer.com/inthemix.