Usher's Las Vegas residency is a reminder: He's unmatched
Inevitably, whenever the subject of dream Verzuz guests come up, the male artist that starts trending on social media is Usher. Though a decade removed from when the Atlanta-based singer last dominated the charts, he has been repeatedly proposed as the ideal match up for the earnest Justin Timberlake, or the frenetic Chris Brown.
Thing is, in terms of commercial and critical success, people forget how much Usher is in his own lane — and his new residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas is here to remind them.
The show, which opened Friday night, begins with a video of the performer throwing around general plaudits about his career ("I do it to celebrate music, I do it to celebrate culture," he says) before flashing through archival footage of the nearly three decades he's been a star. As the clip ends, and the music kicks in, the crowd is left scrambling to spot the artist, before finding him right in the middle of the audience, singing his spry 1998 single "My Way." He then runs through more fan favorites, including "Caught Up," "U Don't Have To Call," and "Love In This Club," nailing strenuous choreography while the capacity crowd scream-sings his lyrics word for word.
Later, during the show's centerpiece, Usher returns to his Atlanta roots, roll bouncing along in roller skates to recent single "Don't Waste My Time" before wheeling out a two-story set reminiscent of famed ATL strip club Magic City, complete with various sized stripper poles. (The rumored, infamous Usher bucks are indeed real, and he showers both the dancers and the audience with them.)
For "Bad Girl," Usher invokes his beloved 2005 performance with Beyoncé, throwing in a show-stopping pole dance for good measure. His performance of "You Make Me Wanna" rivals Magic Mike and the nearby Chippendales show, with him sliding his hand down his pants and caressing the microphone stand. He showcases more theatrical talents on "Climax," pulling off the Grammy-winning ballad's rollercoaster of emotions. And "Confessions Part II," given a new arrangement for the show, is still compelling enough to trick you into thinking its pulled from Usher's life (producer Jermaine Dupri has copped to it being based on his own past low point).
The show does have its faults. There's an interlude that feels more like a cognac commercial, and the focus on ballads in latter half of the set dampens the momentum; by the time the singer's EDM era kicks off, near the end, the crowd has a hard time catching a second wind, unable to match the high energy of "DJ Got Us Falling In Love," "Scream," and "Yeah!" Meanwhile, the last portion feels a bit random: an interstitial soundtracked to "Without You" plays, and the singer gives a classic, crooning Vegas performance of "U Got It Bad." He then closes with a banter-y encore of "Without You" — tweaked to sound more inspirational as he tells the audience how much he appreciates them coming out as we're nearing the end of the global pandemic.
But those small setbacks don't detract from what this residency accomplishes: an impressive showcase for Usher's achievements, and a reminder of how much he has achieved since he was a teenager: more than 100 million records sold, eight Grammys, nine No. 1 hits (a feat only matched or surpassed by Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Elvis Presley). That he easily has another hour of memorable songs left in the chamber by the end of his Caesars setlist makes the thought of him losing a Verzuz laughable.
Usher: The Las Vegas Residency runs through Jan. 1, 2022 at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace