Let’s face it, all of the ladies crushed to the very front of the stage, estrogen and eyebrows heavy with anticipation, came to the State Fair Grandstand last night to see one thing, and one thing only…
As the last of the summer sun set over the fair, and the neon lights of that behemoth Ferris wheel provided a spectacular backdrop, Usher eventually appeared in all of his ageless glory. An almost magical being, the 38-year-old R&B star walked out to the middle of the stage sporting the very same babyface that graced the cover of his 1997 breakthrough album My Way.
But the show that followed demonstrated that looks can be deceiving.
With women roaring all around, Usher began what would be a fast and fancy-free setlist of bangers with his powerful club hit, “OMG.” He pranced around the stage, accompanied by a handful of back-up dancers, with a DJ presiding from a pedestal behind him, moving right into “Love in This Club” and the old favorite, “U Don’t Have To Call.”
But Usher, in a glittery white jacket, black jeans, and flashy gold high-tops, seemed content to let his sex appeal carry him through the show. His dancing was certainly subpar, downright basic even. And though he had so many hits to get through that cutting some of the jams short might seem practical, it felt like a cheap move considering the hefty $97 ticket price – or even if you’d taken advantage of the “buy one get one free” offer when sales flagged.
Fortunately a former collaborator was there to save the day. “It’s been a real long time since I’ve been here,” the singer announced, “so I brought my number one OG -- Lil Jon!” The King of Crunk came romping out on stage to surprise the crowd, his face obscured as usual with sunglasses and dreadlocks, and repping Minnesota with a Twins cap and hoodie. That meant it was time for “Yeah!” of course, followed by that dirty one-phrase song we all knew the lyrics to, “Outta Your Mind.”
Lil Jon stayed onstage for the rest of the night, acting as a second DJ, and adding a bit of sex-talk for the ladies before Usher broke into some long-awaited slow jams. But Usher disappointingly allowed the crowd to sing about 90 percent of anticipated hits like “Nice & Slow.” Those “day one fans” (as he called them) should get a cut of that ticket price, since they wound up singing so much of the star’s hits for him it was almost like Usher karaoke at times.
Of course, his famous abs received a deserved roar of applause when his shirt finally came off. And yes, Usher’s still as cut as he’s always been. But he seemed to overly rely on his sweating sexuality, dazzling as it was. The fancy-footed dance moves we all remembered never materialized, we never heard the high notes that we anticipated on “My Boo,” and Usher skipped the famous “Trading Places” seduction scene where he famously brings a lucky lady from the audience up on stage. (Cue imagination.)
Usher took a lot of breaks. There was no encore.
As he recently showed with his Young Thug-featuring banger “No Limit,” Usher’s still good for a club hit after 23 years in the game. But last night’s show gave the impression that maybe that’s all he’s good for.
The crowd: Ladies in their 30s and 40s, either enjoying girls’ nights or dragging along boyfriends who seemed begrudgingly excited to be there.
Overheard in the crowd: A high collective sighing and woo-ing, and many variations on “He’s so sexy!”
Critic’s Bias: Usher called out to his “day one girls” in the crowd, the fans who have been there since his very first album, and that’s me – sorry, not sorry.
Random notebook dump: WHY didn’t he play “My Way”?!
Love in This Club
U Don’t Have to Call
Outta Your Mind
Lovers and Friends
Confessions Part II
I Need A Girl (Part One)
U Remind Me
I Don't Mind
U Make Me Wanna