Usher's Spot-On Parade of Party-Rockers and Panty-Droppers

Unlike at Art Basel, Usher kept his smartphone to himself Friday at Toyota Center.
Unlike at Art Basel, Usher kept his smartphone to himself Friday at Toyota Center.
Photos by Violeta Alvarez

Usher, August Alsina Toyota Center December 5, 2014

You can have an epiphany about R&B at 26 right? Like, you can glance over all the mix CDs you made with the intent to woo a girl and then immediately wonder where it all went to hell, right? Right.

Usher, for all intents and purposes, is the last of a dying breed.

He'll forever be the first singer -- or maybe second, give or take your opinion of R. Kelly musically at this very second -- in my lifetime that girls gush over. Damn the B2K era that followed him, Usher's My Way and 8701 albums taught me plenty, namely how you're never supposed to tell a woman, "Hey, you're sort of like this girl I used to like but then she turned out crazy...wait, where are you going?"

The crazy thing about Usher is that he's a fresh 36 now. He doesn't have to make warm and sexy slow jams now; he can guide them via his coach seat on The Voice. The crazier thing? He still seems able to thrill fans old and young alike with a pulse-pounding mix of EDM-fashioned party-rockers and smoldering panty-droppers. He's cool, not in that corny sense but in a timeless one. Who else would use his time at ArtBasel in Miami to literally charge his phone inside of a woman's vagina?

Opener August Alsina has bounced back from a tumultuous fall that saw the young crooner plagued by health problems.
Opener August Alsina has bounced back from a tumultuous fall that saw the young crooner plagued by health problems.

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Last Friday night, following August Alsina's strong opening set, Usher made his second Houston appearance of the year following his debut performance at RodeoHouston in March. The noticeable differences between then and his UR Experience set up? His stage show got to move away from the constrictions of a circular stage, he didn't roll in on a motorcycle in a weird send-up to his "Nice & Slow" video and his favorite raccoon hat and golden high-tops made an appearance for "Yeah!"

With an assorted mix of risers and scaffolding, Usher made sure that the main stars of the show weren't just him but his band and wide array of dancers. He banged golden drums during "Bad Girl," offered playful banter on how complex relationships are (he is a divorcee) and more. It's a weird thing to notice that Usher and the phrase "public relationship" have only crossed paths twice. One led to Confessions, by far his strongest and most celebrated album; the other resulted in a string of albums such as Here I Stand and Raymond v. Raymond.

The argument can be made that Friday night appeased both fans who arrived to enjoy Usher's music before Confessions and those who prefer his later records. Party favorites such as "Lil Freak," "Love In This Club," "Twisted" and "She Came To Give It To You" energized the crowd, pumped into an even larger atmosphere thanks to Usher's backing band and vocalists, all eager to please.

Story continues on the next page.

 

The 36-year-old entertainer set a near-impossible standard for all the guys on hand.
The 36-year-old entertainer set a near-impossible standard for all the guys on hand.

The stripped-down version of "U Remind Me" from the rodeo re-emerged inside Toyota Center, fans clamoring for slow Usher and fast Usher. Even the literal dick-tease of "Good Kisser" kept the ladies up front and center with the constant theme of Usher possibly sleeping with all of his dancers in a tour-wide harem. Guys nodded their heads, ably sitting through while waiting for the end, hoping that their girlfriends, wives or dates wouldn't immediately say post-show, "God, I love me some Usher!"

Fellas, just nod and agree. You're not going to win that battle. Even if you tried your best "My Way" dance-off with her ex in some faux West Side Story battle. You may wind up becoming Tyrese. And nobody wants to be Tyrese.

Usher generously spread the spotlight to his dancers and backup band.
Usher generously spread the spotlight to his dancers and backup band.

Personal Bias: Usher remains one of the few master R&B showmen, next to Chris Brown when he gives a shit. I still pity those poor souls who'll grow up telling their children they wooed women with Trey Songz.

The Crowd: Caught up in swoons and body rolls.

Overheard In the Crowd: "Wait, when did Usher meet Pimp C?"

Random Notebook Dump: During a break of "There Goes My Baby," Usher mentioned that it's been seven years since we lost Pimp C. He may be from Dallas, but he at least knows some of his Houston stuff. He called Pimp a dear friend of his, which led many in my section to wonder...what the hell would a Pimp C/Usher collaboration sound like?

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