Janet Jackson doesn’t do nostalgia tours.
Sure, the iconic artist’s more than 30 years of work transports many back to their youth, when they were dubbing cassette copies of “Control” on tape decks and watching the Jackson’s elaborate dance productions on MTV or “Friday Night Videos.”
However, the word “nostalgic” would infer that Jackson’s best work is solely of another era, one we have moved past stylistically and socially. That music would sound dated, not foundational for countless artists and albums. It would sound kitsch, not prescient of the problems still unfolding around the world on a daily basis.
Her music doesn’t, a fact clearly displayed at KeyBank Center on Saturday night, where Jackson’s “The State of the World” tour stopped for a visit. Dealing from a deep deck of messaging and rhythm — still poignant decades after its conception — the artist known simply as Miss Jackson presented work that remains an accurate, and danceable, critique of the present.
This can be a rare feat for pop music, often prone to adhere to its moment’s Zeitgeist. But talent like Jackson’s has never been relegated to a particular moment. Whether grooving with Cab Calloway (“Alright”), dance-taunting hitchhiking dudes in the desert (“You Want This”), or crafting an entire album to mobilize a movement against the world’s social ills (“Rhythm Nation 1814”), she has endured to both outpace her contemporaries and influence a fleet of Britneys and Beyoncés.
This was evident throughout last night’s thumping spectacle, as was the fact that, at 51 years old, Jackson shows no signs of slowing down.
Emerging on stage in all black amid imagery from Syria, Africa and inner city violence, Jackson stalked the stage to a pair of tracks from 1989’s “Rhythm Nation 1814,” “The Knowledge” and the tour-inspiring “State of the World.” A flashing “no” to words like “prejudice” and “bigotry” displayed on surrounding screens as she wailed through each, harkening back to the opening statement from the tracks’ host album:
“We are a nation with no geographic boundaries, bound together by our own beliefs. We are like-minded individuals, sharing a common vision, pushing toward a world rid of color.”
It’s a call for unity that is 28 years old, but still fresh for a crowd that can bond to Jackson’s words and dance moves like they’re hearing and seeing them for the first time.
Backed by a full band and nine dancers — one being Buffalo’s own Allison Buczkowski— Jackson transitioned from “Rhythm Nation” work to career-spanning material, whether from her newest album, 2015’s “Unbreakable” or through New Jack Swing-heavy hit montages that helped launch the genre. Stepping through pieces of hits like “Miss You Much,” “Control,” “The Pleasure Principle,” and “All for You,” she gave everyone in attendance a chance to appreciate how well the songs have aged, all accompanied with dancing pulled from each tune’s video.
And throughout, Jackson dazzled as if the videos were filmed last week.
This might have been most evident during the pre-encore pair of “If” and “Rhythm Nation.” Both numbers were once popularly personified by daring, almost militaristic dance displays. Last night, she recreated both, setting the pace for dancers half her age with moves now replicated by a younger generation, all while thrilling fans singing along with a still pertinent and ageless icon.