Whispers of ‘Usher, Usher…’ filled Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena on Friday night, as an ecstatic crowd of teenyboppers, grown men and women, and a surprising number of children, took to their seats.
Fans were warmed up, somewhat unexpectedly, by Australian house-electro group The Potbelleez – the support act printed on our tickets was Trey Songz. It didn’t take long though for the confusion to settle, as The Potbelleez quickly got the early birds pumping with their fitting opening title ‘Hello’.
Their hour-long performance exerted more energy than the already excited crowd needed, but renditions of hits like ‘Trouble Trouble’ and ‘Are You With Me’ were met with buzzing anticipation for what was to come. Tracks from their new album Destination Now were received just as well and the vibrant purple background with amazing light displays only added to the vigour. The set darkened and acoustics blared as they ended with ‘Don’t Hold Back’ and an instruction to ‘Get your Usher on’.
Then we played the waiting game, until a half hour later when the closed curtain rippled and a cheer surged through the arena – but nothing happened, causing an air of impatience to filter through the crowd. What seemed like hours later that thing below our feet trembled, a robotic noise surrounded us, wherever we were, and everyone up roared. Amidst the excitement and forestall, one could be forgiven for forgetting where they were. And luckily Usher didn’t disappoint.
Opening with a space-themed rendition of ‘Monstar’, which included a tumult of automated voices and mechanic tunes, it wasn’t until Usher belted out crowd favourite ‘Yeah!’ that the concert really took off. After a climactic bout of fireworks, he slowed down the tempo with ‘U Remind Me’ as he flirted with the bevy of sexy dancers on stage — and the guys, whether there on their own accord or dragged along by their counterpart, were hooked.
Moving on to a succession of his earlier boy-band style songs – complete with smoke hues, white costumes, and a bit of thrusting – the concert could be described as unwavering at this point; reminiscent for older fans who have been with Usher since the mid-’90s, yet just enjoyable enough to hold the attention of his younger audience.
And who could forget Bree, who, after a gruelling selection process (well, for me anyway, as I was sitting just outside the spotlight’s path) was chosen to accompany Usher on stage for a seductive interpretation of ‘Trading Places’. She shied away from the star at first, seemingly embarrassed of being serenaded, but it wasn’t long before she was dirty dancing along with him — I wondered if it was a setup.
Finally, with flames emblazoned in the background, he sang ‘Burn’ – a personal favourite of mine and the crowd apparently, as everyone was singing along. In continuing the theatrics he switched to a glittery pair of shoes on stage and expressed his admiration for the late King of Pop with a tribute to his work. He sang a medley of his songs and busted out moves worthy of Michael Jackson himself.
To the crowds’ disappointment, he only sang snippets of some of his older hits (‘Confessions Part II’ and ‘My Boo’ included). This was perhaps the biggest mistake of the night, given the massive reactions these songs received. But after an all-in performance of ‘Caught Up’, where he hung off seat railings just to get close to his fans, all was forgiven.
The song of the night though, which got the entire crowd on their feet dancing, was undoubtedly ‘DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love’. ‘More’ had an effect just as impressive, before silence fell over the arena and the set went black. The audience knew what was coming and began chanting for the song that is also the tour’s namesake. Needless to say, Usher ended the concert with ‘OMG’ leaving fans enthralled and wanting more.
Jessica Buccolieri is a Journalism Honours student at La Trobe University and a member of the upstart editorial team. She is currently writing a thesis about the effects of social media on modern journalism. You can follow her on Twitter: @bjessa.