The glittering glove Usher wore on his arm as he rose through erupting pyrotechnics at Virginia’s Hampton Coliseum on Aug. 5 was just one of many showbiz elements—from fashion to foot-work—that the pop star’s shoplifted from Michael Jackson over the years. But while Jacko seems to move on instinct, it’s obvious from Usher’s pristinely executed, modified moonwalk during ''Caught Up'' that he takes a much more calculated approach.
That’s not to say that Usher’s an awkward performer. For that, look to Kanye West, who opened this first stop on the United States leg of Usher’s Truth Tour. For more than half an hour, the rapper-producer bounced rigidly from the DJ on his far left to charismatic singer-keyboardist John Legend on his right without ever truly filling the space in between them. Any of Usher’s eight elastic dancers could have provided more presence.
Still, West, who’s made pompous guest appearances everywhere from ''Def Poetry'' to ''Punk’d,'' was uncharacteristically humble. Ego-less and buoyed by Legend’s nerd-soul stylings, message songs like ''All Falls Down'' and ''Jesus Walks'' made up for West’s inadequacies as they rang from the mouths of several thousand malleable youngsters. It was refreshing, considering these same kids would be watching a glistening, grinning Usher grind one of their wide-eyed own into a sofa within the hour.
In this and every physical maneuver—aside from the actual singing—Usher was so self-absorbed as to lend even a wobbly handstand the gravity of an orange alert. Gliding across the stage on hidden roller skates during a dynamic disco rendition of ''U Don’t Have to Call'' was certainly wondrous, but Usher may have been better served by a pair of strong backup singers to bolster his exertion-weakened vocals. In fact, he might want to think about swapping one of his dancers for John Legend. That guy’s no Michael Jackson, but he seems like a natural. B-