It takes a lot for Usher to perform outside of the US these days.
For the last two years, the R&B star has built a successful residency in Las Vegas — perhaps rightfully understanding his fan base matured from the frenzied days of the late 1990s and prefer hearing the hits seated.
Then again, the allure of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with its glamour and friendly crowd, was enough for the singer, full name Usher Raymond, to bring some of that Vegas razzle-dazzle to Etihad Park on Thursday.
Usher’s return to the UAE is also a case of unfinished business.
His last major performance, bizarrely, was part of the closing ceremony for the 2012 World Parachuting Championships Dubai.
Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly his crowd. Also, it was a different Usher who took the stage back then.
While the show was slick as expected, he carried the kind of added intensity of a champion defending his turf.
While still a bonafide star in those days, a new generation of acts, such as Chris Brown and Jason Derulo, were on the rise and nipping at his heels.
Fortunately, none of that tension was on display in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
He cut a friendly and suave figure as he took us on an hour-long journey of his greatest hits.
Backed by a cracking band, including a horn section and a panoply of dancers, Usher channelled the vibes of his Las Vegas residency at Etihad Park.
All songs, from the stomping Caught Up to smooth ballads like Burn, were lovingly performed with Usher’s velvety croon.
Usher spent part of the set celebrating the 25th anniversary of his second album My Way.
Tracks such as You Make Me Wanna… and the lush stylings of Nice and Slow exemplified the persona that made him a hit at the clubs and earned him a guest acting role in Bold and the Beautiful in 1998.
Confessions, an R&B ballad, was also a standout, with Usher leaning into the stark subject matter with an emotionally committed performance.
Despite the lyrical dramatics, Usher was in congenial mode throughout the evening.
Call it “The Vegas Effect”, as the show featured some of the old-school banter synonymous with residency shows.
“This one’s for you, and you, and you …” he would say to the screams of the crowd.
At other times, he would trail songs by conversationally mentioning well-known lyrics such as “how many lovers and friends are out there?” before launching into the ballad Lovers and Friends.
This matured vibe suits Usher.
Nearly 30 years into his career encompassing music, film and television — not to mention being responsible for spotting future superstar Justin Bieber on YouTube — Usher has nothing left to prove and has seemingly embraced his seasoned status.
With his next performance in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla on Friday, one hopes he takes his latest show further on the road, as some things shouldn’t only stay in Vegas.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after-race concerts continue with Swedish House Mafia performing on Friday, followed by Kendrick Lamar and Def Leppard on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
Access to after-race concerts is exclusive to Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ticket holders. Tickets are available online at www.yasmarinacircuit.com and through the Yas Marina Circuit Call Centre on 800 927 or 02 659 9800
Forty-five artists who have played at the Abu Dhabi F1 After-Race Concerts — in pictures
Prince kept it fun and funky during his Abu Dhabi Grand Prix performance in 2010. Reuters
Updated: November 18, 2022, 9:14 AM