Usher Reliant Stadium March 7, 2014
Usher's first trip to the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo will likely remain one of the most memorable of his career. It was a show that started with big-budget excitement, continued on through a whole bunch of dirty dancing, teetered on the edge of disaster and ended with Usher Raymond IV proving that he's more than just a great singer and dancer, but that he's a master performer.
Most performers strip things down to play the rodeo, even though they're playing to more people. Usher went the opposite direction, making the most of his chance to perform in front of 75,067 screaming Usher fans.
It may not have been the miracle of entertainment, as one booming voice suggested over the PA, but it did leave an impression.
It's hard to believe that Usher has never played the rodeo before. With his collection of hits and larger-than-life personality, it seems like a no-brainer. In terms of popularity, he seems like the exact type of performer the rodeo would go after. With his fellow judges from The Voice performing this year -- Adam Levine and the rest of Maroon 5 will be in town Thursday and our good friend Blake Shelton will be here on the 20th -- maybe now was finally just his year.
The show felt massive, making the most of the stadium's lighting grid and pyro abilities. The opening of the show set the tone for the rest of the performance, with a group of motorcycles powering on to the stadium field, circling the stage, and engaging in some light stuntwork. It's the type of thing you don't get to do in an arena, and kudos to Usher for not being afraid to go big and bringing something different to the proceedings.
While a song like "Yeah!" is built for stadiums and "You Make Me Wanna..." still works after -- get ready to feel old -- 17 years, the highlight of the show on the musical side of things was "Burn." It had fans from the dirt all the way up to the press box harmonizing and pouring their hearts out.
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Because most of us have not in fact been to every rodeo performance, it's hard to say with any degree of absolute certainty if Usher's performance had the most bumping and grinding of any rodeo show ever, but that seemed to be the consensus on social media. It was maybe a touch shocking for those who were expecting a night of clean, family entertainment, but sometimes a show just has to go in to PG-13 territory.
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The show was moving along just fine, but then Usher was beset by a whole bunch of technical issues, primarily that his wireless microphone refused to work. He made the best of what appeared to be an extremely frustrating situation, even working his removal of the device in to one of his dance routines. He never got upset, although he did drop two "shits" and a "cow shit" in to his stage banter, for those of you keeping tabs on rodeo vulgarity.
The fact that he just rolled with the issues and sang with the handheld mike made him even more likable. He continued to do as much of the dancing as he could, but he kept his vocals front and center and refused to let some bad electronics beat him. No matter what he was thinking on the inside, he was all smiles to the fans.
It would be a shame if the technical issues kept Usher from ever doing the rodeo again, because even with the problems it seemed like everyone walked away from the show thrilled. You gotta believe that even with all the bumping and grinding, the rodeo would love to have him back if he can pull in the same number of fans again.
Besides, it would be hard to imagine that his next rodeo performance could have more issues than this one, and even if it did, you know he would handle them with the same professionalism, good humor, and style that he did this one.
His fellow judges have a lot to live up to.
Personal Bias: My roommate and I are known to jam out to "Yeah!" in the car from time to time. Also, I'm told I'm supposed to admit that I had never heard "Burn" before hearing it live, so that you may all shame me for my ignorance.
The Crowd: A new record for Black Heritage Night, and the first of the 2014 shows to hit the Top 20 attendance list. Also, very vocal.
Overheard In the Crowd: "There's children here, Usher!" said one excited but slightly alarmed fan when things started getting hot and heavy onstage.
Random Notebook Dump: Someone let Usher know that the proper name for sheep riding is mutton bustin'.
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