It could become a Thanksgiving tradition: Justin Timberlake, the boy band survivor turned all-purpose entertainer, filling Southern California’s arenas every November in the run-up to the holidays.
That’s the prospect he seemed to be envisioning, anyway, at the Forum in Inglewood, where Timberlake brought his world tour Monday night, almost a year to the date after it first stopped at Staples Center in 2013.
“Back again for more?” he asked, pointing to a fan near the stage, not long into Monday’s show.
The length of this tour — which has also played Anaheim’s Honda Center, as it will again Wednesday night — mirrors the protracted rollout of “The 20/20 Experience,” the two-part album that marked the singer’s much-publicized return to music following a period spent focusing on his acting career.
By the time he hit Staples last year, Timberlake had already racked up a pair of No. 1 records, received a lifetime achievement award from MTV, played a series of stadium concerts with his pal Jay Z and performed on seemingly every late-night television show in existence.
No surprise, then, that that initial local appearance felt something like a royal visitation, with endless swagger, an adoring crowd — and no dramatic tension whatsoever.
Yet 2014 has been different — less kingly — for Timberlake, who after being left out of the major categories at January’s Grammy Awards has been largely overshadowed this year by the likes of One Direction and Taylor Swift.
So if Monday’s show was structurally identical to the earlier one — same costumes, same set list, some of the same stage banter — Timberlake moved through it differently, disrupting the idea that he’s grown complacent even as he demonstrated how naturally his talents come to him.
Accompanied as always by an expansive live band complete with horn players and backing vocalists, the singer was downright ferocious in “TKO” and “SexyBack,” the latter of which he paused at one point to proclaim, “I’m still running this!” It’s a line he’s used before, but here it sounded newly aggressive, as though Timberlake knew there were those in the house who needed convincing.
He mustered a similar intensity for covers of “Heartbreak Hotel” and Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison,” far-flung indicators of a big stylistic appetite.
But Timberlake wasn’t just showing that even a superstar can stay hungry. For much of Monday’s concert he was coasting — not with the smug self-satisfaction he flashed last year but with the honest confidence of someone who’s been on the road for more than a year.
“Not a Bad Thing” was appealingly breezy; “What Goes Around… Comes Around,” with Timberlake strumming an acoustic guitar, had a rootsy arrangement that made the song feel spontaneous. Even the disco trifle “Take Back the Night,” the laziest cut on both “20/20 Experience” discs, oozed a winning, slightly oily exuberance — like a Lionel Richie residency in Las Vegas, a booking whose time has clearly come.
Occasionally that assurance wasn’t enough to conceal Timberlake’s boredom with some of his material, as in the relatively ancient “Cry Me a River,” which had no more tears in it, and “That Girl,” an homage to Memphis soul that here was more sleepy than sensual.
True lifers, of course, figure out how to get the job done no matter what. (I repeat: Lionel Richie.)
But perhaps Timberlake knows he’s not quite ready for that gig. With his marathon tour finally set to wrap in January — and his wife, Jessica Biel, reportedly pregnant with the couple’s first child — the singer’s slight fatigue may be a sign that he’s preparing to step away from music again.
Don’t worry, though: When he comes back, it’ll seem like he’ll never leave.
Where: Honda Center, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday