At the very top of his sold-out concert Saturday night at the TD Garden, Justin Bieber floated out from the stage in a harness with wings (made from speakers) strapped to his back. For those both keen on mythology and privy to the carnival of increasingly unflattering PR gaffes he’s had in recent months, the Icarus imagery was there for the taking. But while Bieber’s hubris has been making him fly perilously close to the sun offstage, his show was hampered by a greater sin: the singer’s detachment from his own performance.
It’s not as though Bieber was apathetic or disdainful toward his songs or even his fans, though taking the stage half an hour late didn’t help. But there was no sense that he took any pleasure from being one of the biggest pop stars in the world and putting on a show with a three-tiered stage, a phalanx of dancers, and kicky pop songs. His entire performance was proficient and joyless; he could repeatedly plow through complicated song-and-dance routines without smiling afterward, either at what he’d done or the rapturous response it generated. “Beauty and A Beat” was a frisky dancefloor pumper, and Bieber looked as though he was doing calculus in his head.
The problem wasn’t limited to club bangers such as “Take You,” “All Around The World,” and the driving “She Don’t Like The Lights.” Seventies soul pastiche “Die In Your Arms” should have been ebullient but never quite sparked, and even without updating their arrangements, songs from his more carefree, floppy-haired days like “One Less Lonely Girl” and “Baby” couldn’t pop the way they once did. And Bieber’s idea of a stripped-down and intimate acoustic miniset involved him slowly circling above the crowd in a cherry picker.
But if everything was meticulously plotted down to the last twitch, Bieber dutifully ticked off every step, and the crowd roared its approval at the spectacle and complexity of it. It’s too bad Bieber’s performance was an obfuscation of his artistic voice, not an expression of it.
Mike Posner opened with low-effort R&B/hip-hop singing marked by an unearned swagger. He was followed by Hot Chelle Rae, who had no room for melancholy of any sort in their precision-tooled guitar pop, which sounded utterly calculated down to the last detail.