Pop superstar Usher and his opening act, the rapper Kanye West, brought a show that was the yin and yang of modern R&B live performance Friday to 13,965 fans at the St. Pete Times Forum. While West's brief set was free-flowing, unfussy and spontaneous, Usher's was polished, glitzy and choreographed to the slightest flex of one of the singer's well-toned muscles.
Both performers were appealing.
With a small, sturdy live band backing him, Usher, 25, danced in tight choreographed moves with his eight dancers. The singer began with a dizzying Caught Up as pyrotechnics blasted and strobe lights blinked over an elaborate stage set with staircases and scaffolding.
Usher's clothes seemed to change as often as the tunes. He donned a top hat and tails for the spicy My Way and later an athletic jersey.
Usher's moves were straight out of the Michael Jackson early 1980s catalog, updated with his own tricks. Usher makes no secret about being a Jackson acolyte. He also adores love-bruised soul singers such as Marvin Gaye and Al Green. Confessions, Usher's chart-topping album, finds him graduating from banal teen pop into such mature territory, following his well-publicized break-up with Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas of the pop group TLC.
The singer's voice was silky on ballads such as Nice & Slow and Superstar. He gave his all to old-school R&B tearjerkers Throwback and Burn. Usher's most frenzied number was the crunk dance hit Yeah!, which spurred fans to their feet and had them hollering its simple, boisterous chorus.
West's 40-minute set was a hogdepodge of frenetic energy. West, 27, mesmerized the crowd on We Don't Care, the opening number from his brilliant debut The College Dropout, with fluid rapping and a confident strut across the stage. The rapper delivered his verse to prerecorded music, accompanied by a turntablist and a keyboard player. Alls Falls Down, with lovely piano, sounded especially good, as did the gospel-tinged hit Jesus Walks, for which West changed from his boyish, long-sleeved striped shirt into a white preacher suit. During one portion of his set, West paid homage to the late Rick James, dipping into the late funk god's Give It To Me, Baby.
West's stage was designed with a minimalist touch: spliced panels behind the rapper displayed arty video montages, with sporadic text, suggesting West hasn't forgotten his Chicago art school background.
Pop upstart Christina Milian began the concert with a brief set from her debut, It's About Time.
Gina Vivinetto can be reached at (727) 893-8565 or ginasptimes.com.