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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Usher @ The Marcus Amphitheater

June 30, 2010

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Applause comes easy to Usher. Wednesday night he earned most of his cheers through his demanding footwork, but ovations followed him pretty much no matter what he did. Banter with the crowd? That’s a cheer. Hump the mic stand? Even bigger cheer. Flash his abs? Those ensuing shrieks from that move must have turned heads at Summerfest’s neighboring classic rock stage.

But perhaps the most memorable cheer of the night was the one Usher received for doing literally nothing. Between songs, the 31-year-old singer took an extended pause, standing motionless as he gazed over the crowd. Fans roared with unadulterated joy, their cheers soon hitting a fever pitch as they cherished the chance to bask in Usher’s presence without the distraction of all that pesky singing and dancing.

The freeze was a well-calculated display of showmanship in a brisk, 90-minute set that otherwise frowned upon breathers. “I see everybody’s still standing up, so that’s a good sign,” Usher grinned halfway through the show, knowing full well he hadn’t afforded the audience the chance to sit down, and didn’t plan to.

Even the night’s slow jams weren’t particularly slow. The band punched the tempo of “Confessions” up a notch or two, which eased some of its tension. On record, Usher croons that tale of an imperiled marriage with anguished repentance, but on stage he zipped through it with almost comical resignation, narrating its high drama with an occasional wry headshake and a knowing, “ain’t it a bitch?” smirk.

Other hits were heavily abridged. “My Boo” was shortened by half, while “U Got It Bad” appeared only as a brief crowd sing-along, and “Lil Freak,” a moderate hit from this spring, was reduced to an unceremonious instrumental snippet used to introduce Usher’s backing dancers.

Tellingly, the lovely divorce lament “Papers” was skipped entirely. That song would have felt out of place at a concert dominated by deliriously carefree fare like “Love in This Club,” “Daddy’s Home,” “Caught Up,” “Yeah!” and the amphitheater-rumbling “OMG,” the current radio smash Usher reserved for his sole encore number. With its incessant, Euro-house thump and sports-arena chanting, “OMG” is a curious throwback to the Jock Jams of the ’90s, but it ended the night fittingly, giving the crowd a final, extended opportunity to purge themselves of any cheers they had left.
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