Most of us are aware that there’s a cash imbalance between live and recorded music now, with albums often just an excuse to travel the world again. Usher Raymond seems to have dispensed with the album element altogether, embarking on his lengthy UR Experience Tour of Europe before there is any sign of UR, his eighth album.
Perhaps the 36-year-old R&B star has been too busy to finish up in the recordiing studio, working as a coach on the American version of The Voice and making a boxing film with Robert De Niro, in which he plays Sugar Ray Leonard. Experiencing UR sounds like a fine idea on paper, anyway, with collaborations promised with Ed Sheeran, Pharrell Williams, Drake and Skrillex.
A recent single, Good Kisser, was a highlight here, incorporating stuttering beats and a wild selection of manoeuvres from his eight dancers. Usher himself was quite the mover and shaker, invoking his idol Michael Jackson as he slid and smimmied about the stage in gold trainers.
During one triumphant spell, including Twisted and Caught Up, his band became an old-style soul revue, horns blasting while the lights blazed. There were snippets of Stevie Wonder and, more surprisingly, Eric Clapton. But Usher has stayed on top over what he called “this 23 year career of mine” by daring to move forwards. Climax was a futuristic electronic ballad that allowed him to send a stunning falsetto up into the rafters.
Lyrically he could sound tired, especially when dealing with sex. I Don’t Mind, another recent hit, was about that age-old issue: trying to be okay with your girlfriend being a stripper. A galvanised, all standing crowd knew every word throughout the night, even during an oldies segment that saw him and his DJ attempting to identify the original fans.
The spectacle couldn’t be faulted. Discovered at 14 on an MTV talent show, Usher has spent most of his life working out how to enthrall an arena. With more lights than a city skyline, plus fire, steam and endless fancy footwork, there were few lulls. Over a long set, there was no need for more new material – he had plenty of hits to go round.