The screaming was almost unbearable, but absolutely warranted. Last night at 1STBANK Center, Usher used the crowd's unrelenting wails to his advantage, standing on stage in his own silence many times during the night, letting the crowd fill space in the arena with vocal adoration. He just flirted with every look, turning his head to seemingly lock eyes with everyone there, letting full minutes pass before he interrupted the appreciative howling to regale hundreds of lovers with "My Way," "Love in This Club" and "Lil Freak."
See also: Prince at the Ogden Theatre, 5/12/13
There were many singular moments over the course of two hours when Usher kept his mouth closed and just let his fans take over. Hit after hit after hit came and went -- sometimes his massive live band would take center stage with him, other times it was the accompaniment of his DJ, expert backup singers and dancers. But it was when he was alone in front of the audience that the singer worked it best; an a cappella version of "Let It Burn" found Usher trading lines with the room, hundreds of voices almost overpowering him. He just smiled.
Usher has a lot of hits. So many that it wasn't until his choreographed greatness threw some of those hits at the crowd that memories came flooding back. It's hard to believe his baby face has been around for two decades, but as Mr. Raymond slithered through songs like "Twisted," "OMG" and a pared-down version of "U Remind Me," the reasons for his longevity were obvious. Though he sang many tracks just for the ladies, he also dedicated songs to his fellow dudes; hearing all of Usher's work in a virtual retrospective, the continuity in his storytelling was clear: He has always played the same sometimes faithful, sometimes promiscuous, always forgivable lover. The night was punctuated by change-ups in sound and style. Usher pushed out many of his club bangers first, brought the energy down a little with a few ballads, and then moved back up again as he stepped behind an all-gold drum kit. By this time in the evening, Usher had shed most of his wardrobe. Shirtless, his chain resting on his muscly chest, he banged through "Good Kisser" and a very extended drum solo. It wasn't the best playing, but it didn't matter. It was Usher.
As much time as he took to bask in the adoration of thousands of screaming fans, Usher also utilized many points in the night to thank the crowd. Before moving into another UR classic, "U Got It Bad," he made sure to tell his longtime followers how much he appreciated them. He showed that love by performing tracks like "There Goes My Baby," "New Flame" and "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love."
And just when it seemed that he had no hits left, Usher pulled out "Yeah." His Michael Jackson-honoring dance moves and James Brown-style bandleading culminated in this final flash of big-show excellence, and with that, it was over. An brief encore returned Usher and his small but mighty troupe of dancers to the stage for "Without You," and then he was officially done.
Usher is from a different time -- older than the average pop star, with a center-stage style that's less about flashiness and ridiculous costuming, and more about sheer entertainment skill (although his end-of-the-night switch to a cartoonish raccoon-skin cap was pretty hilarious -- and it was also sexy, because, hey, it's Usher). The on-stage setup was still an avalanche of expensive LED lighting and rotating scenes and risers as expected, but with Usher in the middle of it all -- crooning, rapping, moonwalking, playing drums, flirting or all of the above -- none of it really mattered. All eyes were on him and his mastery of every asset of the perfect arena pop concert. Usher is kind of like Prince... if Prince was your fifteen-year-old boyfriend from high school who serenaded you in front of the entire school on Valentine's Day.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
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