When we last saw R&B star Usher play the Twin Cities, in November 2014, he was struggling to connect with a half-capacity crowd at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. The tightly choreographed show and high-tech staging gave Usher numerous opportunities to dramatically pause and bask in the applause.
The problem was, there wasn’t nearly enough of it.
Usher’s concert Thursday night at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand looked like it was going to have similar issues, given the buy-one-get-one ticket offers that started popping up as Fair officials looked to move seats that topped out at $97 each.
But then Atlanta rapper Lil Jon entered the picture.
On Wednesday, the Fair announced Lil Jon would join Usher, a move that surely helped boost the attendance to 12,779. And the goofy “Celebrity Apprentice” veteran helped turn the concert into a party.
Usher is between albums and not currently touring, but just playing the random one-off gig here and there. That meant no big production numbers and no live band, just Usher, a DJ and a few dancers.
But the decision to make the floor general admission and to build out a small extension of the stage right into the center of the crowd gave the show a much more intimate feel. It also gave fans a good look at the main attraction, who is still impressively fit and glowing at 38.
With no new record to promote, Usher kept the focus on his hits and opened strong with “OMG,” “Love in This Club” and “U Don’t Have to Call.”
Then came a grinning Lil Jon, wearing a Minnesota Twins sweatshirt, who tore through a handful of his own tracks and had the place jumping by the time he got to “Shots,” LMFAO’s 2009 smash that featured him as a guest.
Usher returned to the stage and told the crowd this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which wasn’t quite true as Lil Jon has joined him for several recent concerts over the past year. Not that anybody cared, because at this point it was clear this was an evening focused solely on fun.
Lil Jon then joined the DJ at the back of the stage and occasionally chimed in as Usher sprinted through the decades. He performed the sexy “Confessions Part II” shirtless, a bit of an odd move given the summer’s news that he allegedly infected a series of women with herpes, one of whom filed at $20 million lawsuit against him. (His legal team has denied all claims.)
From there, Usher sprinted through his back catalog, offering sometimes truncated takes on “My Boo,” “I Need A Girl,” “Party” and “Bad Girl.” Things got particularly sweaty when he hit “You Make Me Wanna,” “U Got it Bad,” “Nice and Slow” and “Burn,” with the crowd singing along at every turn.
Lil Jon rejoined Usher for a rousing “Yeah” and his own multi-platinum hit “Turn Down for What.” Usher wrapped with David Guetta’s “Without You” and called it a night after barely 75 minutes on stage. This time, though, he earned all the applause.