Could you hear the squeals in Silver Spring? Could you feel the tremors in Takoma Park? At precisely 10:11 p.m. Friday, slow-jamming superhunk Usher finally -- finally! -- stripped off his shirt at a near-capacity MCI Center, revealing his sweat-slick, abs-fabulous physique and sending thousands of women into summon-security hysterics.
In related news, at 10:12 p.m., hundreds of men sitting next to dizzied dates sadly looked down at their flabby bellies and wondered why they ever agreed to come to this stupid show in the first place. They also swore off Big Macs forever.
Those Pudgy Petes and Frumpy Freds should have known what they were getting into. Usher's neo-soul croon is an average instrument at best, and many of his slow, bump-and-grind hits about what goes down behind the bedroom door all seem to blend together in a cozy lump of keyboards and come-ons. Still, there's a good reason why his most recent album, "Confessions," sold more than a million copies in its first week of release (and more than 5 million total since that March 2004 debut).
Usher, in case you haven't guessed by now, is a certified sex bomb. This 25-year-old dreamboat -- born in Chattanooga, Tenn., and raised in Atlanta -- sells sauciness as well as anyone in pop music today. "Confessions" is supposedly about how he cheated on, then broke up with, TLC chanteuse Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas. But that's just part of a genius marketing strategy. "Confessions" is actually a steamy announcement that Usher is a single man again. You get to hear his likes, his dislikes, his kinks -- all very helpful hints. Yep, Usher Raymond IV is both a cutie pie and a great businessman.
Every night is ladies' night in Usher's world. And every second of his coolly choreographed 90-minute set -- performed on a two-tiered stage that looked like a strobed-out villain's lair from a really bad Batman movie -- was dedicated to whipping the opposite sex into a frenzy. No less than seven video screens -- including an IMAX-size one that served as a backdrop -- were used to show close-ups of Usher slooowly pulling off his sunglasses and tipping his fedora. Plus, there were pyrotechnics, smoke machines and confetti. It wasn't so much a concert as a Sin City spectacular, devoid of improvisational moments but jam-packed with scripted thrills that left the female-strong crowd more than satisfied.
Obviously influenced by the days when Michael Jackson used to moonwalk his way into people's hearts, Usher is a phenomenal dancer. With a hands-free microphone wrapped around his baby face, he was able to glide, shimmy and break-dance his way up, down and across an array of staircases, platforms and lifts -- including one that boosted him 30 feet into the air. He was often surrounded by eight dancers -- four muscle-ripped men, four all-legs women -- but not one of them was as smooth as the head showman. The endless routines were artsy-cheesy blends of "A Clockwork Orange" and "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo."
Backed by a four-piece band, Usher eventually got around to singing, too. Opening number "Caught Up," the best song on "Confessions," was a catchy rock-disco hybrid that would have fit in just fine on the King of Pop's "Off the Wall." He also unloaded all those shriek-inducing love songs, including "You Make Me Wanna," "Nice & Slow" and "U Got It Bad." For the nasty how-to guide "That's What It's Made For," Usher had a request: "I want all the girls here to turn around and face the back. Now I want you to shake your booty." His request was granted immediately.
The night did have a little something for the guys. Opening act Christina Milian (think of her as J. Lowdown) performed a 15-minute set in a blue one-piece that made her look like one of the Superfriends -- that is, if the Superfriends were crime-solving porn stars. For catchy club hit "Dip It Low," she wiggled out moves that gave new meaning to the word "cheeky."
Following Milian, producer-turned-performer Kanye West rapped 40 minutes worth of hits from his debut, "The College Dropout," the most inventive hip-hop album to hit the streets since Jay-Z's "The Blueprint." With a turntablist to his left and keyboardist-singer John Legend on his right, West pumped out the children's-chorus-fueled "We Don't Care," the fiendishly clever breakup song "All Falls Down" and, as the incendiary showstopper, "Jesus Walks," a gospel-infused chiller with a head-nodding, drum-corps beat.
But soon after Jesus walked out (taking any substance with him), the devilish Usher danced in. His most shameless bit of seduction came toward the end of the night. Prowling the front of the stage -- his four female dancers behind him dressed like Charlie's Angels from Hell -- Usher stared into the crowd. Then he slowly lifted his arm, pointed into the gonzo masses and ordered, "You, in the green top!" As women all over the venue searched desperately for a spot of emerald in their wardrobes, a twenty-something fan was brought onstage to pose supine on a couch. Usher crooned the ballad "Superman" to her, danced with her, and then -- get ready to plug your ears -- kissed her smack-dab on the lips. Hoo boy: If he had been shirtless when he planted that smooch, MCI Center would have surely imploded.
At song's end, the two disappeared offstage. When Usher returned, alone, looking guilty, he cooed out the first few words of "Confessions, Part 2," about a guy being honest about being dishonest. The crowd screamed in approval.
And they continued screaming through current smash "Burn" and show-closer "Yeah!" -- the ubiquitous Lil' Jon-produced shout-out with those simple but infectious blasts of synthesizer.
As the arena emptied, mothers and daughters, divas and divorcees were laughing and high-fiving. And as for the men? Well, Pudgy Pete and Frumpy Fred definitely had their work cut out for them.