Although the lyrics of “What About” describe situations that aren’t the same as this year’s reckoning of sexual assault and sexual harassment, it wasn’t a stretch to assign an abundance of vile male behavior to the dancer as he received Jackson’s message.
How did the audience know the personal relevance of “What About”? Jackson concluded the song by saying, “This is me.”
The forceful statement arrived as one of a handful of onstage remarks by Jackson, who lived in Gary, Ind., for the first few years of her life.
“I have to tell you, it feels so good to perform for my home state,” she said near the end of Sunday’s show.
Jackson returned to Gary, where she and her iconic siblings lived in a house roughly the size of a two-car garage, following a Chicago tour stop in October. Speaking to students at Roosevelt High School, the 51-year-old talked about the February birth of her first child.
“Every doctor told me it wasn’t possible. But I’ve got a beautiful, healthy son,” Jackson said.
Youth provides one theme for Jackson’s “State of the World” tour. Despite an overall assessment that things aren’t great, a new generation can bring change.
Jackson performed 1990 chart-topper “Escapade” with two female dancers who resembled high-school students pulling the best job-shadowing assignment ever.
And Jackson deserves all credit for radiating youth at 51. She’s breezy, fit and holding onto a teenager’s bold attitudes.
Minimalism defines the “State of the World” production. Jackson began the night wearing black military boots and she steamrolled through more than one medley of hit songs.
The sound mix was far from finessed, so it was great to hear Jackson sing the melodies of “Control,” “What Have You Done for me Lately” and “Pleasure Principle” back-to-back-to-back above her rough-edged band.
A satellite stage or some type of catwalk would help the show keep pace with other modern productions as well as bring Jackson closer to her fans.
She clearly was at ease during the show’s middle segment, when she wore a denim jacket and track pants covered by a flannel shirt.
This part of the program delivered the highlight of her latest studio album, 2015’s “Unbreakable.” With assistance from rapper J. Cole via video, Jackson navigated the seductive beats of “No Sleeep.”
An audience estimated at 8,000 attended the show, making it a smaller event in the arena’s 2017 parade of blockbuster concerts starring Garth Brooks, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, Billy Joel and Lady Gaga.
Jackson last performed in Indianapolis in October 2001, a wait made even longer by canceled plans between then and now. Her 2011 concert at the Indiana State Fair didn’t happen in the wake of the fatal stage-rigging accident the night country-pop duo Sugarland was scheduled to perform.
Sunday’s show originally was set for January 2016 and then pushed back again from July 2016.
With a performance as strong as Sunday’s, there’s no reason we won’t see her again on an Indianapolis stage.
Jackson closed the show with “Well Traveled,” an “Unbreakable” selection inspired by her life’s countless adventures: “I never want to arrive. Because if I ever reach there, there’s no place left to go.”