Okay, that might sound a little harsh. And it isn’t saying anything about the quality of the show itself. While Usher’s recent output has been uneven,1 I wouldn’t go as far as to write him off. It’s a thought that creeped up on me while attending the #URXTOUR. And that’s coming from a long-time fan; the first concert I ever went to was Usher’s Truth Tour back in 2004. He was at the height of his powers and crushing everyone with a string of unbeatable singles from Confessions. The show set my standard for what big venue entertainment should bring, a combination of high quality dancing, singing and pyrotechnics. The list of artists that have since achieved that level, is short. It isn’t even a list. It’s Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake and Kanye West (both solo and with Jay-Z).
Maybe it’s because attending so many shows have set the bar higher, or maybe you just hold one of your favorite artists to a higher standard, but the #URXTOUR doesn’t start the way I had hoped. The songs feel rushed and mr. Raymond chooses to leave much of the singing to his background vocalists and the audience. The band often overpowers Usher’s voice and that’s a damn shame when you start your show with classic tracks like Nice and Slow, My Way and U Make Me Wanna. As I began to think Usher really did lose a step, he steps it up. A strong section of up-tempo songs, among them one of the singles from the upcoming album She Came To Give It To You, mark the beginning of the better part of the show.
When the DJ plays the Diplo-produced beat of Climax, Usher finally shows his vocal chops. From that moment, the show gets in a groove that no other artist can match. Take a look at the songs:
- My Boo,
- I Need A Girl,
- Lovers & Friends,
- I Don’t Mind,
- Body Language,
- New Flame,
- There Goes My Baby,
- U Got It Bad,
- Bad Girl,
- Good Kisser,
- You Don’t Have To Call
That’s a whole album worth of near-perfect tracks. The only thing that slowed this section down is Usher’s drum solo to start Good Kisser. Ush is good at many things, but drumming isn’t one of them. I don’t understand how there’s nobody in his entire crew who said, “Hey Usher, maybe it isn’t such a good idea to bang on a drum kit for a solid eight minutes when you can only play six notes”. When Usher ends the show with Yeah!, I almost hope he doesn’t return for an encore. What song is left to play? More and Without You, it turns out. It gives the audience more fireworks, but Without You isn’t the banger to close out the show.
The Truth Tour and the OMG tour that followed were very similar. The biggest tracks from Here I Stand and Raymond v Raymond were added, but much of the choreography and execution from older tracks were exactly the same. The #URXTOUR on the other hand, is completely new. Usher still likes to hear his audience scream -he takes five minutes to put on his glasses-, but his shirt never comes off. Maybe that’s part of growing up. The show lasts a good two hours, almost thirty minutes more than his previous shows. With every album he puts out, there are more songs he has to play. If he keeps putting out solid albums with a couple of great songs, his shows will clock in over three hours.2 And if the quality of the shows is like the middle part of the #URXTOUR, I don’t mind.
- His latest, Looking For Myself, really found himself looking for the right musical direction. The record is full of hits (Climax, What Happened To U?, Twisted) and misses (Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, Scream, Euphoria) and it’s the first album since his debut -not counting Raymond v. Raymond extension Versus– that didn’t achieve the RIAA platinum status. ↩
- Usher is like the Lebron James of R&B music. He was so great at such a young age, you have no idea how old he really is. ↩