Justin Bieber w/ Moxie Raia and Corey Harper
KeyArena, Seattle, WA
The crowds huddle in line in the pouring rain chanting “Justin, Justin” while they wait for the doors of Seattle’s KeyArena to open for the first night of Justin Bieber’s “Purpose Tour.” Every time they almost do, the throat-curdling screams are heard a block away. Finally escaping the downpour, we are sucked into the vicious mobs of merch-table #Beliebers. One young lady gets the whole crowd to scream for a snap, as they clamor for hoodies imprinted with Justin’s giant head and that glowing, flowing hair.
After a couple of solo openers – I don’t envy anyone in the position of opening for Bieber, though I’m sure that the exposure is worth it – the lights go dark and the opening strains of “Mark My Words” can barely be heard over the screaming. And then there he is, rising in a giant plexi-glass box from below the stage. The image is a surprisingly stoic one, and in this context, the lyrics “Mark my words / give you all I got / In every way I will / You’re the only reason why” kick off the show with what feels like a dedication to the fans.
No matter what impression you have of Justin Bieber the guy, Purpose is an album’s worth of pop gold on his behalf, and he seems to have grown into his starlit persona, albeit with the assistance of what I’m sure is a PR machine and the production efforts of Skrillex and Diplo to hone his new sonic direction. Tropical house, you say? Yeah, it’s that smooth. And so is Justin. On a stage outfitted with multiple wings, a skate ramp, a moving sidewalk, and hydraulic platforms, Bieber presents most of Purpose with just a few oldies thrown in for good measure.
Bieber is sporting a tousled man-bun tonight, and moves through a handful of outfit changes including – at one point – a Marilyn Manson muscle tee with the words “Bigger Than Satan – Bieber” printed on the back, and plenty of northwest-friendly plaid. There are crazy lighting effects, fire, rain, a giant floating trampoline of a stage that is lowered over the heads of the crowd. The production value is all here. During “I’ll Show You” Bieber once again rises from below the stage inside what looks a bit like an MMA ring, a giant cage that suddenly bursts to life with projected galaxies as he performs inside. Then a couch appears and he’s solo, with an acoustic guitar. Shaking out his man-bun, he settles in for “Love Yourself” and “Home To Mama” proving that without the heavy vocal effects and backing tracks, his voice is still pretty damn on point. Oh. And he plays instruments. There was the guitar, a drum set, and a grand piano, all of which he played with finessed bravado, as if to say, yeah, I do that too.
For “Children” out comes a group of kids, dancing right along with Bieber and his squad – and kudos to his dancers, because they were working it hard – and then “Life is Worth Living” turns the arena into a field of glowing phones. There is skateboarding that segues into the effervescent “Baby” which is just as catchy as ever. For the closer “Purpose,” a white grand piano appears from below the stage, a wall of sparks falls behind him, and the crowd holds up “We Never Left,” “And Never Will” signs in a show of solidarity. The encore brings with it a single song, clearly the missing piece, as the whole crew dances in the manmade rain with Justin splashing about, singing “Sorry.” While Bieber barely cracks a smile the entire show, his stoic distance feels irrelevant. He’s here, he’s done what many doubted, and he still sounds great.
As we start up the car to head home, immediately “Sorry” comes on the radio like a karmic apology for the massive traffic jam we’re about to sit through. Traffic be damned, this tour is well worth the ticket. If you’re lucky, you won’t miss it.
Justin Bieber Set List
Mark My Words
Where Are Ü Now
I’ll Show You
Get Used to It
Home to Mama
As Long As You Love Me
Life Is Worth Living
What Do You Mean?
Review by Stephanie Dore
Photos by Sunny Martini