SAN JOSE -- Justin Timberlake is good.

He did everything right Sunday night at the SAP Center in San Jose. He looked good. He had a stylish big band behind him, with lots of musicians, singers and dancers decked out like they were backing Frank Sinatra in the 1940s. He didn't hit bad notes and he was his usual charming self.

But there was just something missing. Call it the element of surprise.

Timberlake might be the most reliable entertainer in the world. That obviously meant a lot to his fans Sunday, most of whom didn't bother to sit down even once during his more-than-two-hour set. They knew what to expect, and they got it.

But, unlike Sinatra -- whose style he obviously emulates -- Timberlake isn't good enough to get away with just showing up and being reliable. He doesn't deliver a lot of eye-popping or memorable moments. At least, not to those who aren't big fans, and, as Sunday showed, Timberlake has a lot of them.

So he won't go down in history as one of the world's greatest live performers. He still might end up being one of the best loved.

Timberlake, who performed in the Bay Area six months ago with Jay Z on the Legends of Summer tour, did what he needed to Sunday. When he wasn't offering old-school charm during songs like "TKO" he was channeling his inner Michael Jackson. No one can say Justin Timberlake doesn't worship the right influences, especially when he acknowledges them with a few minutes of a surprisingly potent "Human Nature" (one of Jackson's most underrated songs and something perfectly suited for Timberlake's voice).


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By the time he played his third song, "Rock Your Body," the former N' Sync singer clearly had his groove -- and falsetto -- dialed in. Backed by the tuxedoed Tennessee Kids -- and their fantastic four-piece horn section -- Timberlake ran through his solo material, including last year's "The 20/20 Experience," on a long, linear stage set that emphasized the performers without too many special effects (though the movable stage section was pretty cool).

Timberlake certainly knows how to work a crowd. One of the best moments of the night was during "Summer Love," when the 32-year-old sang to the women up front until they were screaming like they had no idea he was married to Jessica Biel. He showed his versatility, shifting from big funk to soulful semi-balladry on "My Love." He also plays guitar and piano, dances and always makes sure he's the most charming guy in the room, even if it's an arena. Which is why when he gets funky, like on "SexyBack," it's so effective. He can pretty much do it all, and do it well.

But does he do one thing great? Does he live up to the hype of being one of the world's biggest entertainers? Judging by Sunday's show, probably not. He was good. He was likable. He was professional and, of course, has an incredible sense of style. But watching him, there's a discernible feeling that there should be more.

His fans would argue -- and who could blame them? -- that Timberlake exudes likability. He works hard and doesn't have any flaws on stage. But it's difficult to watch him and not wonder why he has yet to take it to the next level -- to rank among the truly great performers he so obviously admires.

Contact Tony Hicks at Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.TonyHicks or Twitter.com/insertfoot.