Justin Bieber Finds New 'Purpose' at Seattle Tour Kickoff
The intermittent high-pitched screams that burst across Seattle's KeyArena on Wednesday night -- host to Justin Bieber's first full concert in three years -- seemed to be the result of the pent-up, giddy anxiety of the 17,000-seat room, filled with a distinctly 2016 roster of Beliebers. There were millennial gals on group dates drinking white wine out of plastic cups, full families of five with the smallest members on laps, preteens with yoga pants and top buns, and a number of men who weren't there as chaperones.
Fans across the arena spotted excitement-inducing gaps in the stage's architecture: cut-outs in the floor for risers meant you could see dancers preparing backstage, and a too-short catwalk couldn't conceal Bieber hopping around in a pre-show hype ritual.
Eventually, Bieber entered to "Mark My Words," the first track off Purpose. He rose up through the floor, ensconced in a glassy cube, wearing a long white coat and armed with dry-erase markers. In a bit of Expo-marker theater, Bieber drew lyrics on the box's walls in real time with full-body flourishes. Then it was back into the stage floor for a moment of suspense before the first, unmistakable pulse of "Where Are Ü Now." For the monster hit, Bieber's crew of dancers tumbled onstage in all-white attire as women suspended in midair did acrobatics against a chrome-y, industrial video backdrop.
Throughout the show, Bieber's role in the choreography was mostly to stand in the middle, nod in approval and jump in for the parts where his efforts could be limited to club-level exertion. He kept his cool -- which, even filtered through the Jumbotron closeups, occasionally meant coming off as disengaged. The Biebs' vocals, though, sounded smooth as ever.
"Get Used to It," one of the more dance-friendly non-singles on Purpose, sounded as sharp and expressive as Bieber's perfectly groomed eyebrows. The track's combustible performance brought pyrotechnics, as well as movement from the platforms onstage. "I'll Show You" followed, with Bieber in a cage as he sang, "It's not easy, when you're made out of steel" -- a dark and confusing setup until the chorus, when an LED light show began flashing across its beams, covering him in exploding octagons and digital fireworks.
For an acoustic rendition of "Love Yourself," Bieber sat, guitar in hand, on an antique-looking, rose-colored loveseat. Crowd karaoke being almost inevitable for the Ed Sheeran-penned track, Bieber threw in high-reaching flourishes as the crowd carried the regular melody. Though his strumming slightly lost its rhythm as he attempted call-and-response, the crooning audience stuck with him. At this point, Bieber addressed the audience for the first time, asking nonchalantly how exactly Seattle is doing tonight.
In one of the show's most thrilling (though slightly puzzling) moments, a hidden platform anchored to the ceiling began to descend, during "Company." It turned out to be a giant, suspended trampoline, on which Justin completed a couple of backflips with impressive grace, and then flopped down on his belly to gaze down at the crowd a story below him.
In the midst of this impressive engineering, there were still some kinks in the production: stagehands left visible by cut-outs in the set, missed lighting cues and occasionally sloppy transitions -- all fairly easy to write off as the predictable clunkiness of any show's opening night.
The first non-Purpose performance of the night was the Bieber classic "Boyfriend," and at this, the crowd perked up; Belieberism is strongly rooted in its original texts. Dancers in LED-laden black bodysuits created a light show in choreography, proving Biebs was fully capable of offering an updated performance that still rewarded his most invested fans. With a playful and satisfying performance of "Baby" -- whose choreography recalled recess -- Bieber showed that even all grown up, he still has a place in his heart for bubblegum.
Though Bieber was reverent on "Life Is Worth Living" (which unfortunately featured an apparent earpiece mishap and caused him to miss an entrance) and "Purpose" (which he performed at a white grand piano), one of his few costume changes featured an oversize muscle tee with Marilyn Manson's image on the front, and "BIGGER THAN SATAN" (and slightly lower, "BIEBER") on the back. Still, his single Crucifix earring glinted in the spotlight. His final wardrobe change was a turn back to the light: a fully Purpose-branded ensemble with sweats and a jean jacket, both of which, the audience was told, would be available for sale.
As the audience chanted for what would be a single-song encore, the crew set up a massive tarp along the stage. The tarp's purpose (no pun intended) became clear after Bieber re-entered: A thick wall of fake rain began streaming down from the ceiling. The dancers were soaked, but still splashed and strutted in what had become an onstage kiddie pool -- eventually, Justin joined. When the rain stopped, he (to some, finally) took off his shirt, but disappeared all too soon. One thing that didn't, though: the melody from "Sorry," audible throughout the crowd even after the lights came up and everyone trickled back out into the evening's natural (and Bieber-less) rain.