The UK leg of Justin Bieber’s Purpose Tour has been dogged by mild controversy, with the Canadian heartthrob appealing to fans not to scream during his shows – at least not while he is speaking. The audience at the first of his three-night stand in Glasgow seemed to have got the memo, so there was no significant drama to report across the slick, no-nonsense, almost perfunctory set – but was that a good thing?
Justin Bieber ***
The most telling moment was during one rare unscripted interlude when Bieber conducted a brief Q&A with fans in the front rows. “How is the tour going?” inquired one, politely. Bieber made unconvincing positive noises while noting he had been on the road for a year. Actually, the tour began in March, but it must be easy to lose all sense of time on the road. And Bieber certainly performed like a man who had been on the go constantly for a year – with a modicum of energy but precious little enthusiasm. No perma-grinning boy band mask here.
At least the stage set-up looked handsome enough with hydraulic stages and the usual lattice of walkways to allow the singer closer commune with his public. Aerial artists and angular choreography aped the dark moody vacuity of many modern pop shows, intended to signpost the artist as “edgy”. Bieber has been attempting to shrug off the teenybop puppet image for a couple of years now, though he appeared before fans as an unremarkable boy next door, one outfit a specially designed Glasgow t-shirt and tartan trews.
His live band knocked out enough sub-bass to rumble right up to the upper echelons of the arena, but the music often sounded overly processed and by the end of the gig Bieber was making no secret that he was miming along to or ad libbing over a pre-recorded and heavily produced lead vocal.
As for the tunes, Boyfriend was the first bona fide hook of the night, seized upon by the fans who all knew that he was singing exclusively to them and no one else. Bitter split song Love Yourself was delivered solo on acoustic guitar as he first appeared in his breakthrough YouTube videos but there was a lack of engagement with his early bubblegum hit Baby and with his best set-piece – a giant trampolene suspended above the heads of the crowd. It was left to a team of local young streetdancers to attack their moment in the spotlight with infectious zest and show how to win over a crowd.