He woos. He seduces. And then he celebrates -- but with sincerity.
That was the equation when Usher's One Night Stand Ladies Only tour rolled in for a hump day -- appropriately enough -- performance in Detroit, where the multi-platinum R&B singer, actor and activist had both the Motown and some dudes on his mind as well.
The Motor City first; Usher peppered his nearly two-hour show with homages to his heroes via snippets of Stevie Wonder's "Rocket Love" and Marvin Gaye' "I Want You," as well as newbie rapper T-Baby's underground hit "It's So Cold in the D." Usher also tucked into a bit of Prince's "Do Me, Baby," which was wholly in keeping with the evening's seductive theme.
As for the guys in his crosshairs, Usher not surprisingly gave a shout out to President-Elect Barack Obama, who he had vociferously supported throughout the campaign. "Yes! We! Can!" he exulted mid-show, adding that "I'm proud to be an American... Those barriers of segregation have been [eliminated]. My blood, your blood -- we're all the same." After the show ended, meanwhile, bits of Obama's election night victory speech played over the P.A.Usher also teasingly name-checked incarcerated former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, during "Lovers & Friends," though, perhaps hedging his bets for the future, he told the crowd later that "the whole Kilpatrick thing is just a joke. It's all good...he's coming back...even stronger. Make sure he knows I said that."
Those were diversions from the main program, however, which focused on giving the ladies an intimate, theatrical experience that was both highbrow and horny, getting down without getting [i]too[/i] low-down. Supported by a five-piece band, three backing singers and four dancers, Usher emerged on the heavily curtained stage singing "Forever Young" in a white-jacketed tuxedo. There were screams aplenty as each article of clothing -- the shades, the jacket, the tie, the shirt -- was shed. And when the black tank top come off -- twice, no less -- to reveal Usher's ripped and sculpted torso; the shrill response made the singer's falsetto sound like a baritone in comparison.
He may have asked for "one promise... what happens here stays here," but the fans certainly did not check their emotions inside the theater.
The tailored repertoire focused mostly on smooth, New Jack-style midtempos and romantic paeans, running a gamut from early career favorites such as "U Remind Me," "You Make Me Wanna" and "Nice & Slow" to "My Boo" and "Love in This Club" and the emotive title track from his latest album, "Here I Am." "Trading Places" was presented as a clever production number in which a piano-playing Usher was undressed and re-dressed by his two female dancers -- one of whom was "seduced" atop the instrument. And during "Superstar" he brought a fan on stage, served her champagne and strawberries and sang to her while she sat on his lap.
The set had its lapses and lulls and, truthfully, could have dropped 10 to 20 minutes without dulling its impact. But upbeat turns on "I Don't Know," "Yeah!" and the encore "Caught Up" were deployed carefully enough to pick up the flow in the right places. And on a night they could see Usher up close, personal and in various stages of undress, the ladies (and the men bold enough to come with them) certainly had no complaints about this One Night Stand.