Sun reporter John-John Williams IV reviews Usher and Trey Songz, who performed Wednesday at 1st Mariner Arena.


One is on the short list of entertainers who could replace Michael Jackson as the king of pop.

The other has dominated airwaves with sexually charged lyrics boasting of his sexual prowess.

Both, Usher and Trey Songz, used their sexual appeal Wednesday night to wow a largely female audience at 1st Mariner Arena as each performed a slew of chart topping hits.

First up was Songz, who has made a living with sexed-up hits such as "Neighbors Know My Name" and "Invented Sex." His lyrics were the biggest attraction here, but Songz also teased the audience with various stages of undress. (The adoring fans loved that..) He didn't embellish the performance much, he basically stood on the stage and sang, which was plenty. His voice was phenomenal, especially when he used his falsetto range.

Still, there was no real dancing per say, and Songz seemed incapable of doing anything other than putting on a striptease. The minute Usher took the stage after Songz's near-hour set, it became obvious that he was the more complete entertainer.

He emerged from the back of the audience on a rectangular piece of metal, soared above the awestruck crowd and descended onto his futuristic-looking stage. (Think "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome")(ed. Please say he looked like Tina Turner).

From there, a bungee-corded Usher performed a series of gravity-defying, "Matrix"-esque moves. At least,the visuals kept the focus off of a God-awful sound system that completely ravaged his first two songs, making them almost unrecognizable. The problem was corrected by the third song, "Yeah," which got the audience amped.

Usher and his phenomenal female dancers tore up the stage with precise steps, and unmatched energy. (They really earned their paychecks last night.) The dancers even did a little acting during his performance of the ballad "You Remind Me," where he portrayed a playboy with a wandering eye. The skit was a little corny and dated (insert Tiger Woods joke here), but played up Usher's showmanship.

The singer paid homage to pop music's ultimate showman-- his idol Michael Jackson -- during a minute-long tribute where Usher mimicked a number of Jackson's dance moves, including the crotch-grabbing pelvis thrust and the "Moonwalk."

Usher quickly returned to his own material with familiar ballads such as "You Make Me Wanna," "Mars vs. Venus," and "Nice and Slow." He started to build a romantic mood, and slowed down the tempo. For Usher that means that on the song "Trading Places," he picked out a fan from the audience, brought her on stage and began to simulate sexual acts on her.. (How proud her parents must have been.)

I guess it was an appropriate transition to his song "Lil' Freak," which was originally recorded as a duet with Nicki Minaj. Thoughts of the absent rapper were quickly eliminated by Usher's female dancers who were seductively crawling over the stage. The singer picked up the pace with "Hot Tottie," arguably his best number of the night. The choreography was particularly stellar, and the crowd really got into the song.

Usher then fired off a series of ballads including "There Goes My Baby," "Burn," "Bad Girl," "Hey Daddy (Daddy's Home), among others. To finish out the night, he performed the high-energy "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love." He pulled out all the stops with this performance.

His background dancers waved glow sticks against the black lights used on stage, which created a rave feel to go along with the dance hit. After a quick exit, Usher encored with mega hit "OMG." Dressed in a white sports jacket, black hat, tank-top, and jeans, he personified cool. He glided across the stage with a fluidity that only true performers posses, and he worked the heck out of the crowd - all while singing.

Many consider Usher the heir apparent to the king of pop. Last night, he made a pretty good case for why he should at least be considered for the distinction.


Usher playlist:
She Don't Know
U Remind Me
U Don't Have To Call
You Make Me Wanna
Mars vs. Venus
Nice and Slow
Love 'Em All
Trading Places
Love In This Club
Lil' Freak
Hot Tottie
There Goes My Baby
Bad Girl
Hey Daddy (Daddy's Home)
Confessions, Part 2
My Boo
I Need a Girl (Part One)
Lovers & Friends Caught Up
DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love

John-John Williams the IV is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He has previously contributed to Midnight Sun. Erik Maza edited the post. 

Photo: Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron. See more photos from the concert.