Music News & Reviews

Justin Bieber awes crowd (and this reviewer) with the stunningly visual ‘Purpose’ tour

Fans line up to see Justin Bieber concert in Fresno

Fans line up to see Justin Bieber's Purpose World Tour on Saturday, March 26, 2016, at the Save Mart Center in Fresno.
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Fans line up to see Justin Bieber's Purpose World Tour on Saturday, March 26, 2016, at the Save Mart Center in Fresno.

A confession: I was the one person not singing along to “Love Yourself” during Justin Bieber’s sold-out performance at the Save Mart Center on Saturday night.

I came into the show with little more than cursory knowledge of the Canadian pop-star’s body of work. Moreover, I viewed my role there as that of an outside observer (one jaded by pop-music stars). I was more interested in the phenomenon of Bieber than any actual performance.

I was expecting to be awed by the crowd reaction: the almost uncontrollable excitement, the deafening roar of thousands of unified Bielibers. I did not expect to be awed by the performance.

And if Bieber had played the set straight, like the night’s openers Moxie Raia and Post Malone, this would be a different review. As good as they were, they were just pop singers, performing over prerecorded tracks. There was no band, no real stage production.

Their visual impact was nil.

Especially compared with Bieber, who put on a stunning piece of pop-music performance art.

For the opening number, the singer rose from beneath the stage in a clear glass box, scribbling words (“love,” for one) to the audience. It’s a seemingly not-too-subtle jab at the overwhelming scrutiny of Bieber’s public and private life.

And pretty damn cool.

Bieber sang from a steel octagon (and at several points took on a fighting stance, boxing gloves slung over his shoulders) and did flips on a trampoline suspended above the crowd. For “Love Yourself,” he played acoustic guitar and sang from a velvet couch that rose from beneath the stage. He closed the set soaking wet, kicking at puddles and playing joyfully in a wall of rain pouring down on the arena stage.

For a non-Bieliber, the music almost seemed secondary to the visual performance with the dancers and light show and stage and costume changes. Forget you’re listening to Justin Bieber and this could have been another high-end Vegas production. And an entertaining one.

Add in Bieber as a personality (his boyish charm and be-yourself, love-yourself positive life message) and it’s easy to see why thousands of girls (and women) lost their collective minds for the hour and 15 minutes he played.

While I’m not a full-on convert, I am slightly more of a Bieliber for seeing the show.

Stray observations:

▪ Without checking decibel levels, I’d say the crowd noise ranked right around jet-engine loud.

▪ As a way of introducing “I’ll Show You,” the singer recounted how, growing up, he was always told he wasn’t good enough. Seems odd for a 22-year-old megastar who had a hit record at 15.

▪ Bieber’s Calvin Klein commercial, which played at least twice before his performance, may not have been wholly appropriate for the entire audience.

▪ For those paying attention, Bieber wore three vintage T-shirts during the performance: Tupac, Marilyn Manson and the Misfits.

▪ Bieber can make the audience lose their minds with the smallest gesture of his hands and thrust/swivel of his hips. Also: Was it Michael Jackson who invented the crotch grab as an intermediary dance move?

▪ Drum solos are the downfall of otherwise good concerts. I will not forgive Bieber for his.

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

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