When musicians are preparing to release a new album, one of the necessary steps on the promotional docket is the album listening party. Most of the time, journalists and other music executives are invited to either a rented out club or a conference room at the record label headquarters to hear the new tracks. That tactic is certainly effective, but doesn’t always lend itself to really “experiencing” the music in the fullest sense of the word. Record label veteran Usher, who has been churning out albums for nearly two decades now, must’ve sat through more than a few boring listening parties over the years, so he decided to step his game up now that he’s getting ready to release his seventh studio album, Looking For Myself. Instead of holding court in some conference room somewhere, Usher instead collaborated with the off-Broadway Fuerza Bruta cast for a one time only night of interactive surprises.
This past Friday night, April 27, a group of invite-only guests gathered in the heart of NYC’s Union Square at the Daryl Roth Theater, unsure of exactly what to expect from this unlikely mash-up. For the unfamiliar, Fuerza Bruta — which is Spanish for “brute force” — is sort of reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil in that they both have incredibly athletic performers, but Fuerza differs in that there’s more crowd participation in the program. This particular show began with “Climax” blaring through the speakers, when Usher suddenly appeared on an elevated treadmill wearing a crisp white suit paired with a turquoise tie, accented with bright socks. Usher ran and ran at top speed until he was noticeably out of breath and perspiring. At first, it was unclear who or what he was running from, but then, out of nowhere, a loud “bang, bang” sound rang through our ears, and Usher fell over with a blood drenched shirt from two apparent gunshot wounds. (Perhaps at that moment he reached the climax the song alludes to?) Like Superman, he quickly jumped back to his feet, removing the shirt (thankfully he had a clean tank top underneath) and presumed running, only this time he was joined by a partner. The two ran while dodging chairs and running through paper walls.
During “Lemme See”, which features Rick Ross on the record (but, not surprisingly, not on any treadmills this night!), Usher rested on a cot while male and female duo of Bruta’s cast ran after each other in a playful cat and mouse chase, flipping through the air effortlessly. The audience stood in awe with their heads slightly titled upward to experience the passionate performance of the pair while dangling from harnesses. Things moved quickly after the lover’s aerobic back and forth.
The DJ then played a live electro-dance mix of “Climax” that entailed flying white confetti before Usher — now in blue jeans, MJ jacket and Chucks — jumped onto the floor to dance with the audience to “Scream” and “Twist It.” While Usher danced one-on-one with fans, Bruta and Co. playfully danced around the room breaking white Styrofoam over the heads of those who obliged. After the Grease-esque dance off, Usher disappeared and the audience huddled in a tight space with bright blue lights shining on the Plexiglass covered with water was raised above their heads. The slow ballads “Hot Thing” (which features Pharrell Williams) and “I Care 4 U” played as viewers looked on in awe at the cast swimming from one end of the “pool” to the other. The flat surface was lowered putting the water and Plexiglass in arm’s length distance. Onlookers reached up to touch the cast with only see-through plastic between them. Changing gears after the mellow mood of dim lights and water twirling, the cast jumped up and down in the water causing a loud thud above the heads of all who gazed on.
After the water wonderland wrapped, Usher reappeared where it all began with “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop.” Both a woman and man joined him on the treadmill as if accompanying him at the tail-end of his self-discovery journey. They happily dodged the walls (or metaphorical roadblocks). And Usher never once sung a note, or uttered a word for that matter. “Looking for Myself” was mystique, magical in that it was indescribable but made perfect sense. As one woman put it, “I feel like I’m in the matrix,” and another added minutes later, “I feel like I’m on drugs and I’m not even taking anything. The visual performance captured every ounce of the audience’s attention in the way Looking for Myself embodies his musical journey.
Below is the full tracklist from Looking For Myself, courtesy of Billboard.com.
“Looking 4 Myself”
“Climax (Kaskade Remix)”
“I Care 4 U”
“Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop”
[Photo: Kevin Mazur/Wireimage]