“This guy offered me a banana in the front row,” said Justin Bieber in Seattle on the opening night of his massive Purpose tour. “I don’t know what he’s trying to insinuate. But I’m good on potassium right now.”
Justin Bieber was ostensibly charged up on Wednesday night. He put in serious work — getting blasted out of the stage on pressurized platforms, dancing in a hail of sparks and through sheets of water, performing a thoroughly professional 90-minute arena spectacle. But as noisy spectacles go, would you belieb it was somewhat sedate?
The concert was sublime vocally, visually and musically, Bieber and his scaled back band did justice to songs in a cavernous space, often elevating the material. But there was a curious remove that was tough to diagnose. Bieber was a great singer but not always emotionally connecting between songs. His dancing was mistake-free but economical to the point where it seemed he was saving strength. There was zero banter besides the dick joke.
Maybe it’s his new “I’m not a fuck-up anymore” public image and the chilled-out tropical EDM vibe of his new music on “Purpose” — easily his best album and a sure step into his serious artist phase. His rhythm now is loping, rolling, walking. Maybe he was overcoming first-show jitters with deep concentration. Whatever the case, he still did a backflip on a trampoline that was suspended 30 feet in the air.
By the finale, the concert was wet and wild, Bieber and his fleet of dancers splashing out choreography in shallow pool and kicking water onto security guards to the tune of “Sorry,” one of the new jams helping redefine the former teen idol’s career. His fanbase has grown with him and he’s expanded into an older demographic, but the timbre of the crowd noise showed there were still plenty of Beliebers who were young and deeply into it, making a high-pitched racket.
Elsewhere in the show it was great to see Bieber dip back into teen-pop era with cuts like “Baby,” an uptempo blast from 2010 which has held up well. Contrasted against the song before it, the island groove of “What Do You Mean,” “Baby” took on new meaning, changing from a song that used to make Bieber seem like a cute toy to one that made him seem like a mature artist with a deep back catalogue. He was similarly expert on folksy renditions of “Love Yourself” and “Home to Mama,” both handled solo on acoustic guitar while seated on a couch. These songs about mothers was a considerate one-two punch for the thousands of moms in the house.
“I think he lip synced a lot,” said one guy walking out of the venue after the concert, extremely incorrectly. Bieber sang for real, played the piano, acoustic guitar and rock drums all gracefully and danced with zero mistakes. Sure, his energy seemed tentative as his dancers did Matrix capoeira all around him, but the Purpose tour is off to a stellar start, showcasing a musician taking control of his art and an audience vibing along for his journey.