Usher, 02 Arena, London
Friday 04 February 2011
Devoted to R&B over the past two decades, the Grammy-winning Usher Raymond has influenced many successful artists (Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown, protégé Justin Bieber) who've shown no shame in pinching his template. With 45 million record sales worldwide under his belt, his recent attempts to keep up with the kids – chart-topping "OMG" springs to mind – and dip his toes in rave and electro bear no resemblance to the early years of his illustrious career.
This slick, techy-inspired show, though, is devoted to his R&B roots and early videos. He steams through his musical highlights, his penchant for showmanship bringing to mind Michael Jackson, whom he makes a point of honouring tonight.
Prior to this tribute, his set flickers with a reliable mix of club anthems ("Yeah") and classics ("U Remind Me"), all dedicated to sex, love and relationships, and all accompanied by salacious dance moves with a stripper-esque quartet.
In fact, Usher's too busy working hard to show any obvious pleasure in what he's doing until he kicks his performance into another gear and switches into King of Pop mode, slipping into a pair of sparkly trainers for added effect.
He's suddenly more electric and smiley, moonwalking and striking Jackson's legendary poses, and transforming "U Make Me Wanna" into a breathless display not far removed from the essence of "Smooth Criminal".
Vocally, he makes a point of proving his chops – although you can make out the collective side glances in the crowd when he delivers excessive runs of melisma and shrieking to punctuate the painful sentiment of break-up song "Burn".
If there are any downsides to the spectacle, they're long forgotten by the second half. Much more engaging and pacey than the predictable first, he signs off with a brilliant retrospective of "Pop Ya Collar", "U-Turn" and of course "OMG".
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