Two songs into his set Tuesday night at First Niagara Center, Justin Bieber walked off the stage. Could it already be time for a costume change? The way pop concerts are constructed today, with theatrical sets separated by dancer interludes, it’s possible. Was this a creative decoy for a serious matter? What’s happening?
You could ask the same questions of Bieber’s latest album, “Purpose,” on which this “Purpose Tour” is based. The 19-track deluxe version of the album stood out from his previous albums when it was released in November. It was more grown-up, lifelong (teen) fans advised. It was a solid electronic dance album, hesitant (straight male) newbies confessed.
This much is for sure: “Purpose” is Bieber’s first album of existential crisis. It comes at the exact moment in the 22-year-old’s Hollywood fable career that self-reflection should, and precisely at the moment when it is lucrative. It’s the harbinger of a teen star’s transition into a teen star’s adult career. He’s grown up in front of a camera and behind closed doors. (The London, Ont., native was discovered on YouTube, drumming like a prodigy.) What’s his purpose at this point? What does fame mean anyway? Where do you go from here? I don’t know.
And I don’t really care. These songs don’t mean much in the long run. They’re only for now, and right now it’s pretty hard to connect. Blame the pyrotechnic distractions and kaleidoscopic laser wormholes. Or blame Bieber himself; I would. Where it really matters – in the energy of the star’s physical presence – he fell short every chance he had.
Throughout his set, which focused heavily on the new album and hits like “Sorry” and “Where Are U Now,” with only a handful of golden (circa 2010) oldies, he appeared to give as little effort as physically possible. Though not exactly a dance act, his music – the ballads, the ravers, the slow jams – makes you move. But he’s not a dancer and should try to be. He couldn’t be bothered to try for most of the first half. (Print deadlines being what they are, this is as much as I could see firsthand.) Instead of owning his stage, greeting his fans with much appreciation, he walked the multi-level, mega-lighted, at-times-floating, at-times-rain-soaked stage like a mall walker perusing the windows. His microphone, presumably filled with charged batteries, occasionally approached his face. It was as if he won the chance to star in his own concert. He sort of did.
Opening act Post Malone, a doofus from Syracuse, at least appeared to be enjoying his moment. His fake dreadlocks sure swayed nicely in the fans’ wind.
Bieber’s hiccup at the top of the show is anyone’s guess. It might have been a faulty headset. It might have been an itchy throat. He might have wanted to pull the plug. His dancers, band and lighting crew stepped up as if on Plan B autopilot. Maybe this has happened before. Bieber didn’t even have to be there. I’m not sure it matters.
Of course, it’s no surprise that he was at his best when sitting with an instrument, singing solo (and live) to his heart’s content. Take a load off, man, and sing your song – “Love Yourself” was a good choice. We’re listening. We got you; you got this. That’s purpose.