Justin Bieber – Nottingham Capital FM Arena, Saturday March 2
This review originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.
By all accounts – including his own – Justin Bieber’s nineteenth birthday celebrations hadn’t exactly gone according to plan. “Worst birthday”, he tweeted in the early hours of Saturday morning, having left his own party after just a few minutes.
Concerned “Beliebers” rallied round. There are over 35 million of them, so it was quite a huddle. By Saturday afternoon, a hashtag was trending: #OperationMakeBieberSmile.
Queuing outside the Capital FM Arena in their thousands, Justin’s Nottingham fans had been placed on a historic mission. This was their hero’s first performance as a nineteen year-old, and his emotional well-being was now in their hands. Were they up to the challenge?
As historic missions go, this was a tough one. Many had queued for over nine hours, eager to secure the best possible spot inside the venue. The support acts – Australia’s Cody Simpson, and Justin’s fellow Canadian Carly Rae Jepsen – kept the troops entertained, but as the expected twenty minute gap between Jepsen and Bieber stretched into an eighty minute slog, even the most dedicated diehards could be forgiven for wilting.
Where was Justin? And why the extra hour’s delay? Was he still sore after the party that never was, and throwing a backstage teenage strop?
We may never know. It certainly wasn’t the fault of the Arena itself, whose organisation of the whole event deserves a special mention; other venues could learn a lot from their informative approach, and their genuine concern for the welfare of their young guests. “We cannot control when an artist is ready to go onstage”, they explained.
Naturally, none of this dampened the screams of delight when Justin finally took to the stage. And despite the lateness of the hour, he still performed his full set, stretching way beyond the expected 11pm curfew.
As entrances go, this was one of the most spectacular that the Arena has ever seen. Attached to a truly enormous pair of grey wings, the star of the show emerged high up at the back of the main stage, then sailed gracefully down to a waiting spotlight at the very front of the long extended stage, narrowly avoiding a forest of outstretched hands. Fireworks popped, lasers flashed, ticker-tape shimmered. It was quite the moment.
Opening with forthcoming single All Around The World, a high-energy stomper with clubbed-up beats, Justin and his troupe launched into the first of many well-drilled routines. But where was that all-important #BieberSmile? The staging was faultless, but what of the man? Still playing it cool behind his shades, he was difficult to read.
“Don’t throw things onto the stage”, he chided us after the second number, pointing at a stray T-shirt that could have caused a nasty slip. At this early stage, he felt less like a fantasy boyfriend, and more like a cross prefect. The mission wasn’t getting any easier.
The pace slowed for Catching Feelings, a rather lovely Michael Jackson-style ballad from last year’s Believe album. Although Bieber doesn’t yet have an out-and-out pop classic in his repertoire – a Baby One More Time or a Billie Jean, that the rest of the non-Beliebing world can fall in love with – Believe marks a clear step forward artistically, as he begins to move away from the toothsome teenpop that first made his name.
Tellingly, three of those early hits, including the winsome Eenie Meenie, were bundled together in an early medley, clearing the decks for the all-new Bieber 2.0. The trademark fringe went ages ago, replaced by a neat quiff, and tattoos appear to be springing up on an almost weekly basis; the owl on the left forearm looked particularly fetching.
Other musical highlights included Die In Your Arms, an old-school soul number with a slight Bruno Mars touch, and an affectingly sincere acoustic performance of Be Alright, accompanied by a lone guitarist. Justin strapped on a guitar of his own for Fall; at other times, he could be found behind a drum kit or a grand piano.
A missed cue led to a somewhat lacklustre Never Say Never, and a slight but significant sagging of energy levels in the room. This wasn’t good enough for Justin (“We’ve got to get it back to a ten, and I think that was a nine”), and we were duly urged to scream our loudest screams for Beauty And A Beat. The strategy succeeded, as the star worked the dance track as hard as he could. If he had seemed a tad diffident at the start, he was certainly firing on all cylinders by the end.
For One Less Lonely Girl, a lucky fan was hoisted onto the stage, placed on a makeshift throne, crowned with flowers, and fondly hugged. Others might have collapsed into hysterical sobs, but Justin had chosen well; this one kept her dignity, and beamed with amazed delight.
“You can do anything you want to do in life”, Justin told us, introducing the title track to Believe. “There’s nothing holding you back.” Inspiring words indeed, but perhaps a few of his fans could have shown a little more restraint during the final encore. Having peeled off his sweat-soaked vest and hurled it into the crowd, a newly topless Justin suddenly had a full-blown scrap on his hands. Reverting briefly to prefect mode, he stopped the band and resolved the dispute, then launched straight back into Baby, his best known hit.
And yes, he was smiling at last. #OperationMakeBieberSmile had been successfully concluded, and our boy looked like the luckiest nineteen year-old in the world. “Thanks for being there for me tonight”, he tweeted after the show. “You got me smiling. Love you. Thank you.” Justin, the pleasure was all ours.
Set list: All Around The World, Take You, Catching Feelings, One Time, Eenie Meenie, Somebody To Love, Love Me Like You Do, She Don’t Like The Lights, Die In Your Arms, Out Of Town Girl, Be Alright, Fall, Never Say Never, Beauty And A Beat, One Less Lonely Girl, As Long As You Love Me, Believe, Boyfriend, Baby.