When I sit down to try to gather my thoughts to describe last night’s Usher show at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, only the most idiotic exclamations come to mind.
“Wow,” “Holy Crap,” and “Awesome,” leap forth ahead of more poignant prose, and I find myself drowning in an excitement that seems to induce only the most monosyllabic of descriptors to juice out of my mind grapes.
So let’s just try to get this out of the way immediately and see where we can go from here: Usher is a fantastic live act. Just great. Energetic. Vibrant. Other synonyms which basically repeat the general theme. It is a multi-faceted, multi-genre show which combines elements of soul, hip hop and R & B with a bit of theater and dance, topped with the lights and pyro and all the other bells and whistles that go along with a high profile tour in a way that grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you while screaming “YOU WILL HAVE FUN, DAMN IT!” and by God, you do. You must. There is no other choice. The show is too engaging to deny, and even a miserable prick like yours truly can’t help but be suckered in by Usher’s absolutely charming stage presence and the enthusiasm of a crowd which is not embarrassed to sing along to every song and dance and grind like they’re at a club instead of confined to the tiny space that their ticket afforded them.
Okay. Deep breath.
What I’m trying to say was, Usher was pretty alright.
But Usher wasn’t the only act in the mix last night.
The event opened with DJ Cassidy, a lanky guy who, according to Wikipedia, is known for “his work at celebrity functions,” but who frankly didn’t seem to have anything to offer that your average club DJ doesn’t do on any given weekend. Perhaps there is some nuance I am missing, not being entrenched in that scene and maybe because of that I was oblivious to some sort of amazing transitions or highly charismatic mic work, but overall I’ve heard many a DJ transition from Bell Biv DeVoe to Sugarhill Gang to Michael Jackson and any number of “classic” or “timeless” dance tracks a few dozen times in my life and the way DJ Cassidy did it didn’t seem to be any better than any other time I’ve been to a function that served up music in that fashion. Cassidy was fine, but nothing terribly special.
Cassidy was followed by August Alsina. Alsina’s brand of club-friendly hip hop is of the variety which delivers that subtle-like-a-sledgehammer sexuality to a beat you can grind to, in which pretty much every song can be boiled down to “Man, sex is pretty great. We should have it” or, alternatively “we are having sex, and it is pretty great.” Alsina was a definite crowd pleaser with a developing stage presence of his own, and at just 22 could be one to watch if he gets a little seasoning and some good direction.
Of course, Usher was the reason that most everyone was in the arena last night, and as I mentioned before, he delivered in a huge way. His performance was paced brilliantly, opening with a great, bassy sound with tracks like “Little Freak”, “Yeah” and “In This Club” and transitioning into a great, soulful renditions of tracks like “U Remind Me,” then moving from that into a career-spanning medley of sorts and finally heading into an almost full-on sing-along to tracks like “There Goes My Baby” and “I Don’t Mind.” Usher’s performance was enriched by the presence of a bevy of backup dancers and musicians who made the event more of a stage show and contributed a great deal to the energy of the performance.
Usher’s appearance in the Twin Cities was surprisingly wonderful. The show drew a diverse, enthusiastic, and energetic crowd together in the Xcel to share in a fantastic performance from an individual who is very, very good at his craft.
Usher said that it had been roughly 3 years since he had last been in the Twin Cities.
Hopefully it’s not 3 years before he comes back.
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