Usher, Playing to the Base

Usher on Monday in New York, the day before performing his
Usher on Monday in New York, the day before performing his "Here I Stand" show at the Warner. (By Scott Gries -- Getty Images)
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Thursday, November 6, 2008

He's a complicated man, but no one understands him like his, er, women. Usher's current "Here I Stand" is the 30-year-old R&B star's first album as a husband and father, and on it he seems to warm to the settled life (while scoring a No. 1 hit about a nightclub tryst). His election-night show at the Warner Theatre, however, suggested a certain nostalgia for his playah days. Indeed, the "ladies only" (it said so right on the ticket) One Night Stand tour might be the most precision-choreographed date in the history of premeditated seduction. For just shy of two high-impact hours, Usher Raymond IV grooved, crooned and grinned his way through a steamy set of house-quaking hits stretching back more than a decade.

Sharing a violet-draped, bedchamber-like stage with his band, three backup singers and four dancers, the multi-Grammy winner proved himself a skillful, charismatic showman. Ubiquitous jams "Love in This Club" and "Yeah!" sounded indistinguishable from the records, but the eye-popping dance routines kept the event stoked with the risky thrill of live performance. For "This Ain't Sex," the svelte star borrowed some of Michael Jackson's iconic moves and repeatedly drew squeals of ecstatic frenzy from the ladies-mostly audience with no more than a point and a wink.

When he did shed his jacket, vest, shirt and tank top (twice!), things got unruly: A sweaty undershirt tossed into the crowd touched off a near-brawl among ladies clawing for a souvenir. Later, he pulled a woman onstage and fed her strawberries. "You realize you represent for all of Chocolate City, right?" he asked. The star appeared moved by the crowd's embrace, and there was at least one genuinely spontaneous moment: When he tossed his mike stand away during the climactic "Here I Stand," it struck his (male) guitarist. Watch out, fellas: When Usher says "ladies only," he means it!

-- Chris Klimek

© 2008 The Washington Post Company