Justin Bieber set the tone for his May 11 concert at the TD Garden when, to open the show, he rose from under the stage locked in a glass box. Imprisoned above and away from the crowd inside his transparent cage, he sang,”Mark My Words”, while scribbling messages on the glass. The show, filled to capacity with screaming Beliebers thrilled to have Justin back, contained a set list of his most recent hits and some of his enduring classics, but for most of the night Bieber seemed like a performer beleaguered and overwrought by his fame.
The day before, Bieber released an Instagram message for his fans highlighting his entrapment: ”If you happen to see me out somewhere, know that I’m not gonna take a picture I’m done taking pictures. It has gotten to the point that people want even say hi to me or recognize me as a human. I feel like a zoo animal and I want to keep my sanity”. For most of his 90 minute set, he seemed like a guy who was struggling to keep it together, including a moment during his acoustic version of “Love Yourself”, where he stopped singing for about 90 seconds midway through the song, trying to compose himself while his eyes filled with tears.
Even though Bieber seemed off his game, hardly acknowledging the audience for the first third of the show and clearly lip-synching often, the adoring crowd seemed by and large not to notice. As he worked though “Where R U Now”, “Boyfriend”, and “What do You Mean”, the crowd sang along raucously, even carrying the songs when Bieber dropped his mike to let the prerecorded vocals take over so he could dance. When working with his back up dancers, Bieber seemed a little looser, displaying the showmanship, style and hip-hop moves that helped make him a star.
During “Company”, a massive trampoline descended from the rafters, and Bieber and crew danced, bounced and flipped high above the audience. Shortly afterwards, a drum set emerged in the same location, and Bieber riffed though a drum solo, a hat tip to the youtube videos with him playing drums which launched him into the public eye.
He was more joyful after the drum solo, and wound down the show with a message of redemption and finding yourself. During ”Children”, an anthem to making a difference, he danced with four local youth dancers (who were excellent); encouraged the audience to hang in through tough times in “Life is Worth Living”; and in “Purpose”, extolled the virtue of finding your passion, or just for finding a reason to get out of bed, which he acknowledged has been hard for him lately.
The arc of the show was very much like the trajectory of Bieber’s career these past few years—he struggled with some very public and personal transgressions, but is trying to find his way back. For his encore, Bieber really hit his stride with his apology song— “Sorry”—which was magnificently set with a rainstorm on stage. Justin looked freer than he had for the whole concert, dancing and splashing with his backup dancers in the downpour, finally looking like an entertainer having fun while at the top of his game. Here’s hoping that he washes away the heaviness that obviously is weighing him down so he can rediscover his “Purpose”.