In the middle of his performance Thursday night at TD Garden, Usher stood still for several moments. He rooted himself in the middle of his elaborate, multileveled stage, quieted his dozen-member-strong band, and had his eight dancers wait off to the sidelines and talked to the audience about how grateful he was for their loyalty.
Considering how packed the house was given that Usher doesn’t have a current hit — the “UR” album from which the tour was intended to take its name has been pushed back to 2015 — and how frequently — perhaps a little too frequently — Usher ceded the songs to the crowd to sing, loyalty is not an issue.
It was a lovely moment and one of very few in the nonstop, sweaty, hour-and-fifty-minute show in which the R&B star was not in motion as he worked through his back catalog of hits with a combination of dazzling precision and soul-stirring warmth.
Even when he was singing ballads, Usher couldn’t quiet the feet that seemed to move of their own effortless accord. They took him sliding, stepping, and skipping across the stage with both fluidity and sharp angles, his body punctuating the music like its own separate percussion instrument. This spectacle proved useful when he dipped into the area of his repertoire that favors rhythm over melody.
Crucially, the erstwhile “The Voice” judge/coach got back to using his own and when the two elements were combined the results were sublime as the beat throbbed and his voice soared on the airy dance pop of “DJ Got Us Falling in Love” or he let loose his falsetto and locked into rich harmonies with his backing vocalists for an intimate version of “There Goes My Baby.”
A peak came during a throwback soul passage with Usher and his band digging into a more classic, horn-soaked R&B sound for “U Remind Me,” “Caught Up,” and an epic take on “Twisted.” That song found Usher pushing his voice to a limit, clearly jazzed by the stripping off of the gloss and channeling his inner James Brown for the night’s best vocal. An a cappella passage during “Burn” — with the audience pitching in on backing vocals in a way that felt truly collaborative — also seemed to energize the already pumped Usher.
The night’s only true momentum killer was when he brought a flock of female fans onstage to dance to “Bad Girl” as it took nearly seven minutes to pick them all and escort them up and they were gone in less than half that time.
His energy never flagging Usher brought things home with the triumphal stomp of “Yeah!” and an aerobic version of “Without You.”
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