TAMPA — Behold, the archangel Justin Bieber, descending from on high in glorious wings made of white guitars and glued together via tweenage tears of joy! This was not a time to talk about bad-boy press clippings and a future in juvie. Oh no, in a sold-out Tampa Bay Times Forum Thursday, the 19-year-old was all things pure and cutie-pie.
Hooray for denial!
There is the outside world, where Bieber is a daily tabloid debacle of wee-weeing in mop buckets and expectorating wayward loogies and chasing faux puppy-dog glances with nasty disregard for his burgeoning power. And then there is the inside world, his concert, where his baby pictures were flashed and the adorable Canadian squirt, on his best behavior, was surrounded by 15,067 Beliebers who think he's a pop prince.
After short sets by budding scream generators Cody Simpson and Ariana Grande, Bieber flew into our lives just before 9:30, about 30 minutes late. Considering that he's been as much as two hours tardy on this tour, we were fortunate.
If fans were miffed by his broken watch, all was forgiven once the cherub floated over three tiers of stage, video screens, a full band and lusty dancers signifying his now-legal age. Overdressed in white, like the coolest hospital orderly ever, he broke into heavily synthesized dancer All Around the World.
Next: "If you don't mind," he hushed in his wee voice, "I'd like to get a little bit more comfortable." So he stripped down to a tanktop. Not exactly two tickets to the gun show, but hey, the young lasses approved of his physique.
(Personal note: After years of covering Mileys and JoBros, my ability to hear high-pitched caterwauls has been dulled. That said, there aren't many people on the planet who generate a tinnitus-inducing aural freakout like Da Biebs. Even with my shoddy ears, there were moments when the prolonged shrieks from the throngs forced me to travel to a mental happy place filled with burbling streams and cuddly kitten mews. So quiet, so quiet.)
Bieber's been taking hits lately for sluggish gigs. And indeed, his dance moves aren't as fluid and crisp as when we last saw him here, at the Jingle Ball in December. The kid's been working for four straight years; if he's exhausted, that's on his handlers for pushing for more riches.
That said, a ton of money has been pumped into this effects-jacked show, and it's far from a phone job. Plus for all the swoosh of the backing music, his mike was indeed turned on for the tinkly ballad Catching Feelings and the goofy Eeenie Meenie, one of many generic bouncers in his thin catalog.
The show was backloaded with hits, so rah-rah choreography and pretty lights had to carry the show through forgettable stretches of two No. 1 albums, 2010's My World 2.0 and 2012's Believe. There was some acoustic crooning to "Be Alright" and "Fall," as he hovered over the reaching masses in a lift.
Finally, the hits: the likably throbby Beauty and a Beat, complete with Biebs taking to the drum kit. (He'd also play piano and guitar.) For One Less Lonely Girl, he pulled one really stunned girl from the crowd.
For encores of Boyfriend and Baby — performed sans shirt — it was life-affirming pandemonium. And that sound you heard was why Bieber needs to get his act together. It really has nothing to do with him. Just look at the thousands of kids who, at this moment in time, need him to respect them. You're only 19, but sorry, that's the big-boy bargain. You have their hearts in your hands. Do your best. That's all they ask.