Usher exceeds expectations at F1

A crowd full of confused fans of The Weeknd mix together with well informed Usher fans. The sun is positioned at just the right angle to be directly in your eyes, and a nice breeze blows hair into the faces of innocent bystanders.

At 6 p.m. Oct. 23, F1 planned to end the action-packed weekend with well … The Weeknd. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Unexpectedly, The Weeknd canceled. He claimed he needed to work on his new alb um S tarboy coming out Nov. 25. This gave Circuit of the Americas the opportunity to invite The Night Show’s house band The Roots along with the Grammy-award winning Usher to perform. I commend COTA on it’s fast recovery skills.

A pop playlist spits out familiar tunes from Michael, Janet, and pretty much every other member of the Jackson family, as an attempt to calm the growing anticipation of the audience. Fifty-six minutes late, lights begin flashing.

The crowd is on its feet now. The reflections of phones recording the stage light up the dark sky. Ten men position themselves behind a wide variety of instruments ranging from a tuba, drums and guitar to a beatbox. They’re the well known Roots crew from Philly.

“Austin, Texas, or surrounding areas, how y’all feeling out there?”

A drum beat kicks up, and all 10 start in with an anthem that gets everyone within a mile radius moving. Black Thought (lead vocalist) then slows it down to shout, “He makes me want to leave the one I’m with!” Every Usher fan knows the reference.

Three men dressed head-to-toe in black run on, halting in front of microphones. Usher, dressed in all white, glides on stage like there aren’t thousands of people chanting his name — nothing fazes him. He decides to take a moment to dance before throwing his arms out to both sides. The music stops.

The Roots know the perfect recipe for a memorable concert. Although there were no spectacular extras like fireworks or streamers, or even backup dancers, they didn’t need them. It was all about making great music, and that is exactly what they did. From a spinning tuba player to a drummer who got up from his drums and ran around the stage, there was never a dull moment when The Roots were on. I always enjoy when an artist involves the crowd — it makes the show feel personal — and The Roots did not disappoint. Black Thought not only interacted with the VIP pit, he also got the crowd in the back involved. My favorite memory of the night was Jeremy Ellis (beatbox) playing beats, then having the audience try to imitate them as well as remix ing “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme song to Rocky. They are a very talented and diverse musical group, and I can’t wait for them to come back to Austin. In the meantime, you can watch them every night on Jimmy Fallon. I know I will.

And then there was Usher. Bouncing around in front of a dark stage, he combined his serious lyrics with goofy behavior. This included walking into the audience to introduce his crowd pleaser “Yeah.” I was pleasantly surprised at how authentic Usher was; he was very humble and frequently mentioned how thankful he was to be performing at F1. About half way into the show, once the majority of the crowd realized The Weeknd wouldn’t be attending, some of his fans began clearing out. The people who left really missed out; The Weeknd couldn’t even attempt to produce a performance as magical as Usher did.

The Roots and Usher were the definition of a show, mixing fast-paced remixes of Usher’s classics with his slower more emotional songs. The chemistry between The Roots and Usher was authentic. You couldn’t see where Usher ended and The Roots began; they were all brothers. Once the lights went out after two hours of flawless production, people began to move, but the show wasn’t over. One last time Usher came out to a dark blue stage. He informed us this wasn’t planned, but he didn’t want the night to end. He then began a very slow and emotional performance of “Climax.” Finishing with “We thank you for turning up with us and enjoying yourselves. With all of the craziness that’s going on in the world right now we needed to just, just enjoy music. That’s the beautiful thing about music, it brings us all together.” Usher left the stage blowing a kiss to the camera, a perfect end to a memorable night.