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Concert Reviews:
Usher delivers dazzle, spectacle at Joe Louis Arena
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK



DETROIT -- Usher says he wants to leave fans saying "Oh My God!" after performances of his current OMG Tour. His stop Thursday night (Dec. 2) at Joe Louis Arena certainly achieved that -- mostly, but not always, with positive affect.

The nearly two-hour show was a dazzling R&B/pop spectacle, filled and fueled with special effects and dynamic choreography. It gave a fair live airing of his pair of 2010 releases -- the "Raymond v. Raymond" album and "Versus" EP -- alongside highlights from the multi-faceted 32-year-old's 16-year career, deftly blending steamy bump 'n' grind with futuristic sleekness and low-key soul crooning.

It was a big show in other words, but one that sometimes struggled with its own weight, particularly in the middle.

That said, Usher certainly got things off with a visual and pyrotechnic bang with "Monsta," riding a platform that floated above the audience from the sound board to the stage. He then executed a series of Spider-Man style bungee cord tricks during "She Don't Know" before leading his troupe of eight dancers through a muscular rendition of "Yeah!" "U Remind Me," "U Don't Call" and "You Make Me," meanwhile, were packaged as a tribute to the late Michael Jackson, with Usher sporting a red "Beat It"-like jacket and a pair of sparkly boots -- one of eight outfits he sported during the show -- and executing backslides, moonwalks and dramatic poses straight out of Jackson's indelible videos.

He also earned a few local points by paying homage to Motown and its role in launching Jackson's career.

The slowdown began after that, however, with the labored, Usher-in-outer-space theatrics of "Mars vs. Women" and with the tired conceit of plucking a woman from the audience and placing her on a chaise lounge onstage for a nearly full-contact version of "Trading Places." "You guys know I'm single -- you know what I'm sayin'?" he cracked at one point, acknowledging the divorce from Tameka Foster that inspired parts of "Raymond v. Raymond" and waking up the overwhelmingly female (of all ages) crowd that had been lulled into a bit of a stupor during that segment of the show.

Fortunately, "Love in This Club" started the concert's final third on a strong note, and a breezy pace took Usher and company through club bangers such as "Lil Freak," "Hot Tottie" and "Burn," a stellar performance of "There Goes My Baby" and a short medley that included hits like "Confessions," "My Boo" and "I Need a Girl." A buoyant "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love" closed the main set, while an encore of "OMG" brought things to a thumping conclusion that just about erased any memory of the mid-show malaise.

Usher did have a little competition on the scream-o-meter early on from tour partner Trey Songz. Following a short introductory set by Usher protege Miguel, Virginia-born Songz (real name Tremaine Neverson) displayed the swagger and sexual bravado of, well, a young Usher as he not only rocked through hits such as "Say Aah," "Neighbors Know My Name" and "Can't Be Friend" but also inserted surprising covers of Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody," Eminem and Rihanna's "Love the Way You Lie" and 50 Cent's "In Da Club." Expect to see him hanging from a bungee cord in some arena near you in the not too distant future.



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