By Rob M. Gooze‚

Arizona Daily Wildcat

PHOENIX Ä Something funky rocked Phoenix Monday night. Her name is Janet. Enough said.

A near-capacity crowd jammed America West Arena for Arizona's only glimpse of the current Janet Jackson U.S. tour and like a finely tuned Indy car engine, the concert ran as a flawless machine. The show's elaborate choreography, musicianship, signing and remarkable set design combined for the most visually volatile, if not the greatest, combination of dance/funk music tour in years.

Monday's concert showcased all of Jackson's many music and stage guises, from the militant dance instructor, and confident R & B balladeer to love crooner.

Dressed in a white Victorian/Southwestern outfit, Jackson began the concert with a steely glare before exploding into a thunderous version of "If." Fireballs and flamethrowers blasted heat waves across rows of adoring, primarily high school-aged fans who screamed in delight to her every dance step. The sultry jam was followed by stealthy renditions of the pop funk gems "What Have You Done For Me Lately," "When I Think of You," "Nasty," and "Miss You Much."

The rock metal jam, "Black Cat," earned the greatest singing response from fans at Monday's concert, many of whom attended the performance attired in various forms of black-stretch lycra dresses and tights.

Among the show's most impressive choreography came in "Escapade" which interacted flawlessly with a state-of-the-art set design complete with giant clown masks and appropriately costumed dancers. Another colorful stage romp, "Alright," found the set dressed with crayon-bright costumes and props that seemed lifted straight out of Dick Tracy. Perhaps the only prop from the video that wasn't on stage was Heavy D.

The dynamic aerobics and overdrive dance moves have always been the highlight of Janet Jackson's tours, however, this time around it was her singing that garnered the show's highlight.

Jackson's brilliant a capella numbers on the slow crooning, "Let's Wait Awhile" and the Poetic Justice theme song, "Again" annihilated any nagging rumors of lip-synching. From this reviewer's seat less than 60 feet from the stage, it was very clear from Monday's performance Miss Jackson was singing all her material and doing it very well, immediately earning this reviewer's respect.

True to dramatic form, Jackson broke down in tears twice in the concert. Once after a prolonged standing ovation Jackson was prompted to say, "Thank you. You don't know how much this means to me right now."

But while performing "Again," Jackson broke down and struggled to fight off a tear-ridden voice by song's end.

Donning black paramilitary outfits Jackson closed the show with her music anthem and album breakthrough track, "Rhythm Nation." And after a raucous three-minute ovation, Jackson and band returned for an odd encore performance of "This Time." Dancers dressed as hooded monks held candles about the stage, as Jackson, also strangely garbed in a high-collared, green magician's cloak, strutted and belted out her version of a rock opera.

Additional ovations enticed more conventional and rocking performances of "That's the Way Love Goes" and the current radio single, "Because of Love."

The latest incarnation of Jackson's tour succeeded on all musical fronts with Jackson, showing shades of Prince, working the crowd for response with the ease of a music dictator. Much to the chagrin of this reviewer, it seems Prince could learn a few things from watching this concert tour.

Jackson's performance Monday not only proved her to be the hardest working woman in show business, but clearly reinforces her status as the year's most exciting and energetic tour act. Read Next Article