USHER, Hammersmith Apollo – Evening Standard, 12 June 2012

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST5WngDVIME

An arena man like R&B superstar Usher wouldn’t deign to play in a theatre as small as the Hammersmith Apollo without an ulterior motive. On the day of his seventh album’s release, he took the opportunity to broadcast this relatively intimate gathering to millions on YouTube.

It was an idea paid for by American Express to make the schoolgirl in her Utah bedroom feel as included as those in the front row here. Innovations included a Twitter ticker scrolling distracting, triple exclamation-marked inanities above the stage throughout. If this is the interactive future, it’s pretty irritating.

Up close, however, the star shone brighter than ever. Since he was discovered two decades ago on an MTV talent show aged 14, he has become one of pop’s greatest dancers. Here he gyrated robotically, pulled a one-armed handstand and jumped over a chair to land in the splits.

Eight dancers and a full band kept him busy, with four women writhing around him during the rocking thud of Lil Freak and the male contingent pulling off a remarkable hat swapping dance during early hit You Make Me Wanna.

Even away from his natural enormodome habitat, he didn’t stint on the fireworks, but this old ham knew that the most spectacular sight on stage was his own torso. “It’s so hot in here, you don’t mind if I…?” he said, as he peeled off his T-shirt to shuddering screams.

The music took a largely chronological route from smoochy R&B to the dancey electronic thud of the new album, Looking 4 Myself, which successfully keeps him up to the minute with euphoric house tunes such as new single Scream. Another recent hit, Climax, was a stunning piece of digital soul delivered in a spectacular falsetto. It was this song and not the tweet-packed stage setup that sounded like music’s future.

Sept 1, iTunes Festival, Roundhouse NW1 (free tickets from itunesfestival.co.uk).

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