Jay Z, stage left.
Justin Timberlake, stage right.
One sang, the other rapped, and the thud of the band kicked in and blurred the lines between their respective genres.
It was a typical enough introduction from opposite ends of the stage at Fenway Park. Less expected was just how fluid and downright infectious Timberlake and Jay Z’s show was on Saturday night. With more than 33,000 fans packing the ballpark, it was the first of two nights under the banner “Legends of the Summer Stadium Tour.” (Tickets are still available for Sunday.)
They hit hard right away with a brisk, potent blast of some of their biggest hits. Timberlake reached back with “Rock Your Body,” “Señorita,” and “Like I Love You.” And Jay was certainly no slouch himself with “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and “Big Pimpin’” (with someone playing that flute part live, believe it or not).
At nearly two and a half hours, it was a tightly choreographed show, but there was no shortage of spectacle or unbridled joy. At any given point, the stage looked like the set of “Soul Train.” Backup singers, four of them, didn’t dance in sync but rather down and dirty. Same for the horn section; the Sox caps were a nice touch, too. (Timberlake and Jay both received Sox jerseys emblazoned with their names later in the evening.)
With just a hairpin turn in the arrangements, the band seamlessly switched from Timberlake’s catalog to Jay Z’s. It was incredible the way they navigated the set list, the way “Rock Your Body” bled right into “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)” as if it were meant to be.
After two handfuls of songs together, Timberlake and Jay eventually ceded the spotlight for solo sets that touched on their new albums. Timberlake savored the breezy neosoul of his “20/20 Experience,” including the Prince-like seduction of “Pusher Love Girl” and “Take Back the Night.” “Cry Me a River” rang out like a surround-sound singalong, much like Jay Z’s “Jigga What, Jigga Who” did earlier.
The men shared not just the stage but also the heavy lifting — Jay Z as hype man to Timberlake’s moon-walking heartthrob, with Timberlake occasionally backing him on keys, guitar, and vocals. During “99 Problems,” Timberlake strapped on an electric guitar (with “617 Boston Strong” on the strap), sidled up to his tour mate, and inserted the riff from Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”
“Can two boys who live in New York show you some love right now?” Timberlake asked before a bit of sheer comic genius. Timberlake the crooner set up Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind” by belting “New York, New York” as a preface. And the crowd joined him.
Let’s be honest: Fenway Park isn’t the first place where New York is saluted. But that’s the power of music and of two entertainers who reach well beyond styles and into the stars.