As a coach on NBC’s talent competition “The Voice,” Usher Raymond was a calm, self-possessed presence as he coached the young singers on Team Usher. Saturday night in the Smoothie King Center, Usher was a physical force first, a singer second for much of the show, but that centered quality still ran through the night.
He set the tone for the show when he walked onstage with a theatrically loose stroll, then erupted in a quick, impressive flurry of steps and spins to open “My Way” and the concert. Moments later during “OMG,” two light panels descended from above to light Usher with a strobe as he danced, creating a stop-motion effect.
He presented himself as a physical spectacle, one who owes an obvious debt to Michael Jackson in his moves and his ideas about how to present them. But Usher has developed his own style that often looks as though parts of his body are moving independently to create a wave motion in his feet and legs, or up to his chest and out his arms. He wore a black jacket, an oversized black T-shirt, black pants and big, puffy red hightops.
When he finally stopped to speak to the audience after the first 10 or so minutes of the show, he welcomed the predominantly female crowd to “The UR Experience,” a reference to his yet-to-be-released new album.
Material from that project factored minimally in the set, however. Instead, he played a greatest-hits show and celebrated 20 years since the release of his self-titled debut album. That seemed to be just fine with the audience, which was slightly older and — if Usher’s call for married people to scream real loud can be trusted — more settled than many arena-show audiences.
Perhaps as a result, the audience was just as excited, if not more so, when Usher segued out of the high-energy club bangers that opened the show and became more domestic. These songs dealt with relationships, even “I Don’t Mind,” which takes an adult perspective on dating a stripper.
For that middle part of the show, Usher the dancer took a back seat to Usher the singer, and it became clear that he had plenty to offer contestants on “The Voice.” He was dramatic in his final crescendo during “Climax,” and he stripped “There Goes My Baby” down to electric piano, percussion, Spanish guitar and backing vocalists.
In both cases, he was authoritative and emotionally connected to the songs and the audience. Still, when he stopped to talk about relationships, saying, “Sometimes you have to go through something to get to something,” there was a patness to the wisdom that contradicted the way he moves.
Usher re-upped the energy late in the set when a drum kit emerged from below the stage and he sat down at it to add a drum part to his “Bad Girl” from 2004’s “Confessions” album. It wasn’t necessary, but it didn’t hurt, either. He’s enough of a drummer to keep the groove going, but the funk jam that finished the song never caught fire. The moment would have felt indulgent with some other artists, but the friendliness of Usher’s persona and the competence of his drumming earned a charitable response.
The song ended the “for lovers only” vibe that dominated the middle hour of the set, and it brought back the dancers, two of whom did handstands while shaking their butts in a sort of inverted twerk. Backing dancers frequently add little meaningful to a show beyond stage coverage. Perhaps because Usher himself is such a strong dancer, his dancers certainly brought additional, slightly chaotic energy to the show.
They clearly draw from a wide variety of styles and almost never moved in unison, instead interacting with one another before seemingly freestyling or breaking off to dance at the front of the stage with Usher for a moment. They ran and slid on their knees as pyrotechnics went off beside them, and they did flips from one level of the spacious stage to another.
Despite all of their motion, Usher was never close to being upstaged. During a solo, he tried to be unassuming and let the guitarist standing on a pedestal have the audience’s attention, but as he turned and smoothly shrugged his shoulders, he commanded the spotlight anyway.
During “Lil Freak,” Usher was lit from below by a red light, and during the song’s conclusion, he did a hand dance for the camera in front of him, which was projected on the screen behind the stage and was as engaging as anything he did with his full body.
The only moment when Usher seemed unsure of what to do was during his 2010 hit, “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love.” Its bouncy Europop sound gave him such a simple beat to work with that there were few rhythmic moments to illuminate. Instead, he jumped and hopped, but it was a moment when the song was bigger than the artist, who really had only to sing its verses.
During the concluding “Without You,” Usher stood on a pedestal, seemingly unable to move as he looked over a little fence that bordered the stage. It didn’t bode well, but once the fence lifted, he returned to the stage, where he and the dancers had room to move, and he did so not with abandon — that’s not what he’s about — but with obvious, though slightly reserved, pleasure.