By Brad Wete
March 21, 2011 at 05:42 PM EDT
ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

Not many artists so far removed from a hit record can fill up a venue as large as Radio City Music Hall. Nearly a decade has passed since Janet Jackson last topped the Billboard hot 100 singles chart (“All For You,” 2001). But there she was Friday night—hair short and slicked—in a sexy, tight gray jumpsuit singing to a packed house on the first of three nights of her Number Ones tour at the famed New York venue.

Oh, how easily we forget. Or perhaps it was just me… Janet’s got hits! Obviously, it’s called Number Ones for a reason. She has ten that have reached the No. 1 spot on the hot 100 during her career, 26 altogether in the top 20, and of those smashes several have ranked above all in their respective R&B and dance charts.

Jackson opened with her 1987 R&B chart topper “Pleasure Principle” and continued with a blitz of classics. Somehow I remembered the words to them all. As did my fellow fans, pausing from reciting lyrics only to squeal or hoot. “Alright,” “Miss You Much,” and  “What Have You Done for Me Lately” all came partnered with the crisp choreography from there ’80s videos. Her voice, both feathery and gruff at times, was strong all evening. There appeared to be no lip-syncing, which she’s often accused of.

In true Janet fashion, the show was sexually charged. Cleavage and crotch-grazing was at a maximum during Ms. Jackson’s “Nasty.” Noticeably absent, however, was the notoriously X-rated portion of her set. In the past cuts like “Anytime, Any Place” or “Rope Burn” (not a former No. 1) led to racy S&M action. Unfortunately, at least for this writer, none of that stuff went down. She didn’t even perform “Anytime.” Maybe the 44-year-old’s over stripteases. Hope not!

Aside from the absence of absolute freakiness, the show was superb. A montage of her acting gigs in Poetic Justice and sitcoms Good Times and Diff’rent Strokes ran during a short intermission. There wasn’t any pretentious storyline; this was a concert displaying her growth as an artist and the tracks released during the journey. She wrapped with a brief, but emotional go at “Scream,” the duet with her fallen brother Michael Jackson, as the video played on the jumbo screen. Then she left with the tear-jerking “Together Again” while childhood pictures of the siblings flashed.

It’s tough to decipher Janet’s place in music history. Statistically, the fact that she’s one of the most successful artists of the last 25 years is unquestionable. She’s in a class with Madonna, though not mentioned as much. She should be. As I’ve been reminded, Jackson’s got an extensive résumé, boasting more jams than one can count on their fingers and toes. Neither they nor she should be forgotten.

Janet closes out her New York run tonight. Going to make it to Radio City? Plan on catching her Number Ones tour in another city? Ever been to one of her concerts? Let us know in the comments below.

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