Byrd's Eye View - Usher at Bridgestone Arena
From Tennessean music writer, Dave Paulson:
You can’t say Usher doesn’t know how to make an entrance.
The R&B superstar likely caused more than a few necks to sprain at the start of his concert at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, as he made his grand entrance not onstage, but at the back of the venue on the main floor. As the curtains dropped around him, the platform he was crouched on lifted into the air, carrying him across a sea of screaming fans all the way to the foot of the stage.
That grand entrance was the first indication that Usher’s “OMG Tour” — named after his inescapable electro-pop hit — was going to be high on spectacle, marked with countless costume and set changes and plenty of (literal and figurative) sparks.
“Nashville, are you ready?” he exclaimed before surprisingly launching into “Yeah” — arguably his biggest hit to date — for the third song of the evening. The crowd’s seat-rattling excitement helped soften the blow of a lackluster mix, with plenty of rumbling bass but far too little crunk snap, as vocals from Usher and a piped-in Lil’ Jon ricocheted around the arena.
“Yeah” was an early sign that Usher’s recent hits — mostly hard-hitting, dance club-friendly fare — weren’t going to rock the arena like, say, the Black Eyed Peas did impressively at Bridgestone earlier in the year. As far as pleasing the house went, Usher fared better with the suave bedroom R&B he’d built his name on in the late ‘90s.
That extended to the visual side of the performance, as well. When Usher invited a fan out of the audience to join him onstage, he captivated his audience more effectively than any piece of pyrotechnics had. Usher crooned to the young woman (introduced as Heather) through his slow jam “Trading Places,” and he didn’t have to twist her arm to put her in a number of highly suggestive positions.
But Usher, acclaimed for his footwork, also impressed with a number of family-friendly moves. The guy who has to put on a two-hour concert isn’t quite the same four-minute song-and-dance powerhouse we’ve seen on awards shows. Instead, he counters a slick, subdued demeanor with bursts of brilliance. He paid a brief tribute to Michael Jackson, calling the departed King of Pop “one of the greatest entertainers ever” as he asked the audience’s permission and donned a pair of glittering shoes. The introduction to Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” faded in, and soon Usher was treating fans to a jaw-dropping “moonwalk” that seemed to measure three feet per stride and spanned the entire stage.
The center of Usher’s set was something of an homage to his own career. A smattering of recent hits — “Love In This Club,” “Hot Tottie” and “There Goes My Baby” — became out-of-your-seat highlights. A medley of older hits seemed to reinvigorate the crowd toward the end of the evening, particularly when Usher, who spent some formative years in Chattanooga, proclaimed 2004 tune “Lovers and Friends” to be a “Tennessee jam.”
Those same fans who got down to old-school Usher jams such as “U Remind Me” seemed to be mocking the disco thump and Katy Perry–worthy chorus of formal set closer “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love,” and Usher’s campy, Tron–inspired getup did little to patch up relations. Still, when he offered the inevitable “OMG” as an encore, Usher held the crowd in his palm for five final minutes. As a pop star with close to two decades and over a dozen hits under his belt, closing a nearly sold-out show with his last two singles was a feat that earned those deafening screams.
Reach Dave Paulson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615–664‑2278.