Canadian pop star Justin Bieber is a wanted man.
On one hand, he’s marked by the pop culture detractors. Despite a career that has seen the 28-year-old rack up more than 150 million in album sales, for every step forward, there have been two in reverse. The self-inflicted public relations wounds, run-ins with law enforcement, a lifetime ban from performing in China. It got so bad that following an arrest on a DUI charge in 2014, more than 270,000 people petitioned the United States White House demanding he be deported. Ouch.
And then there was the infamous microphone flip right here in central Iowa. In his last appearance in Wells Fargo Arena on June 22, 2016 during his “Purpose” tour, Bieber was caught lip synching portions of his act and photographed singing into the wrong end of his microphone. Whoops. On his “Believe” tour stop at the very same venue in July 2013, Bieber took the stage more than 90 minutes late. In other words, he’s got some mending to do.
On the shiny other side of the coin, however, are the “Beliebers,” the largely female swath of eternally forgiving fans who are relentless in their support of their “King of Teen Pop.” Whatever what the Biebs does, it’s good. There’s a reason for everything, and as long as he’s the reason, it’s everything — every day that ends in “y.”
But whatever the perspective may be, Bieber’s reappearance at Wells Fargo Arena Sunday night to 12,000 fans was an important one. While the vast majority of the audience swooned at his every breath, to others, he had something to prove, beginning from note one of show opener “Somebody” when he rose up on a platform from the below the stage to the top of an inflatable jet.
Visually, the show was immediately spectacular in execution, with dozens of lasers shooting the length of the arena, a gargantuan video screen behind Bieber, various moving stage pieces, and the flooring itself, which lit up and became an extension of what was being shown on the screen, as was the case during “Hold On” and the sugar-coated “Yummy.” A couple dozen multi-colored drones were used with expert precision as they circled above the stage at times in varying shapes and formations during “Where Are U Now?” and later during “Ghost.”
The 24-song setlist was “Justice” loaded, and featured 12 tracks from the pop star’s latest release, including the song “Off My Face,” which was performed acoustically. At one point, a customized rendition of a bus stop portal that said “Des Moines” in the name plate descended from the rafters and Bieber sat, flanked on each side by his bassist and guitar players, the aforementioned song, as well as 2014’s “Hold Tight,” and 2015’s “Love Yourself.”
His band is a seasoned group of musicians who were hands down the secret weapon of the show. Yes, the lights were spectacular, and yes, the background dancers who appeared at times revved things up as well, but it was his band that was the backbone to it all, expertly flowing musically from R&B to soul to pop to whatever style of music was needed. Bieber was smart in letting them have their moments, too, as was the case just prior to “Peaches,” which saw him playing simple chord progressions on a white baby grand piano as the band around him took off on an expertly crafted five-minute jam session.
Early in his performance Bieber sported a pink puffer jacket but ditched it to go shirtless during “At Least For Now,” revealing the myriad of additional tattoos he’s gotten since last gracing the Wells Fargo Arena stage. His backward New York Yankees hat, oversized pearl necklace were typical fare. His shades stayed on for the entire show, however, which became somewhat disengaging later in the show. On another down note, Bieber didn’t even attempt to disguise the use of backing tracks in “Sorry” and “Love You Different,” in which vocals could plainly be heard even with the Biebs not singing and having his microphone held at his side. But to be fair, he was indeed singing for the vast majority of the show as was plainly evident during “Intentions,” “Boyfriend,” and show closer “Anyone.”
Bieber’s nearly two-hour performance Sunday night revealed a certain amount of maturation over the last few years, both musically and otherwise. His numerous references to Christianity and/or God (such as the appearance of six neon-outlined crosses on stage during “Holy”) are indicators that he’s headed in the right direction. Only time will tell whether or not he can stay the course, but there were signs of it Sunday night. All eyes were on him, and he, for the most part, delivered.
He needed to. He’s still a wanted man.
By Darren Tromblay
Where Are Ü Now
What Do You Mean?
Off My Face
All That Matters
Love You Different
As I Am