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September 17, 2014

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Déjà vu: Justin Timberlake is still a solid showman in ‘20/20’ return to MGM Grand

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Ron Koch / MGM Grand Garden Arena

Justin Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience World Tour” stop at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Las Vegas.

Justin Timberlake Returns to MGM Grand

Justin Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience World Tour” stop at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Justin Timberlake at MGM Grand

Justin Timberlake performs at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Friday, Nov. 29, 2013. Launch slideshow »

One never forgets the first time, and the third time’s the charm, but what about the second time? The sophomore slump in some circles.

In a return visit to Justin Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience World Tour” on Friday night at MGM Grand Garden Arena (Timberlake’s first stop was a two-night stand Nov. 29-30), one of the best live entertainers in music today (take note, Britney Spears) kept the template nearly the same — and it was as solid and spectacular as the first time.

This is a high achievement considering that his 2013 concert was this longtime entertainment journalist’s concert of the year. Timberlake, the singing, dancing and sex machine, is one of the few artists who can keep audiences entertained for nearly three hours — and still leave them wanting for more.

The applause was thunderous and extended when Timberlake appeared onstage right at 9 p.m., after his first song “Pusher Love Girl” and nearly three hours later after his encore of “Sexy Back” and “Mirrors.” Timberlake has stamina, and so do his devoted fans.

So what was noticeably different Friday night vs. Nov. 29 so as to not be a disappointing carbon copy (take note, Lady Gaga)?

Timberlake was more casual in dress, with a black jacket and black, long-sleeve button-up vs. a 007 sexy-and-suave white tuxedo.

His ’do is different, reminiscent of Macklemore vs. the stylish, slicked-back hair appropriate for a tux.

And obviously his stage antics and banter differed. Timberlake led an audience singalong of “Happy Birthday” to Evelyn, who was celebrating her 31st birthday. And his response after performing “Only When I Walk Away” to a fan who told him that she plays his music each week at chemotherapy: “Wow, thank you, that really warms my heart. We salute your bravery battling cancer (loud applause). Your hair looks good, girl!”

One minor quibble that also marred the Nov. 29 show: Timberlake’s singing was at times drowned out by the band, music and production. The band — and backup singers and dancers — is top-notch, but the former ’N Sync frontman is the star, and his solid and wide-ranging vocals should be front and center.

Friday evening’s more-than-30-song setlist, which closely mirrored Nov. 29’s, included: “Pusher Love Girl,” “Rock Your Body,” “Don’t Hold the Wall,” “Future Sex/Love Sound,” “Like I Love You,” “My Love,” “TKO,” “Summer Love,” “Love Stoned,” “Until the End of Time” at a piano, the Jay Z collaboration “Holy Grail” leading into “Cry Me a River,” then an all-too-short 10-minute intermission (if one wanted to use the restroom and/or buy another drink).

Then “Only When I Walk Away,” “Drink You Away” (a country-fied song about alcohol with his jam band J.T. and The Tennessee Kids — Timberlake is from Memphis), “Tunnel Vision,” “Senorita,” “Let the Groove Get In” (a Latin number with a little “Conga” by Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine added), Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” Timberlake’s current hit “Not a Bad Thing” and Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”

And “What Goes Around … Comes Around,” “Take Back the Night” (with “the roof is on fire” chant and a mashup with Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie”), “Murder,” Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” with the signature dance moves, “Suit and Tie,” “Sexy Back” and “Mirrors” (minus confetti this time around).

Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience World Tour” returns to MGM Grand Garden Arena for a third time on Friday, Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving.

Thanks to Ron Koch of MGM Grand Garden Arena for his photo gallery.

Don Chareunsy is senior editor for arts and entertainment of the Las Vegas Sun.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

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