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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 12/20/2010

In concert: Usher at Verizon Center

By David Malitz

usherUsher was as smooth as ever at Verizon Center on Friday. (All photos by Josh Sisk/FTWP)

There were many impressive aspects to R&B megastar Usher's sold-out concert at Verizon Center on Friday night. He glided across the stage gracefully for nearly two hours of choreographed dance routines. He elicited constant shrieks and squeals from fans who packed every seat in the arena. The set list played out like a retrospective of Top 40 radio's greatest moments of the past decade, one ubiquitous cut ("Yeah!") after another ("Burn"). But most striking was the moment when you realized - wait a second, this guy is only 32 years old?

If it seems like Usher Raymond IV has been around for half a lifetime, it's because he has. He released his first album at the age of 15, had his first No. 1 single at 17, won his first Grammy at 23, had his first No. 1 album at 25 and, with his US Records imprint, helped introduce the world to Justin Bieber at age 30. This year's "Raymond v. Raymond" was his third straight album to top the Billboard charts, and even though it hasn't hit the stratospheric highs of his 2004 diamond-selling album "Confessions," it's still proof that Usher is very much in his prime.

Friday's show played out as a well-earned victory lap, a testament to Usher's star power more than his showstopping ability. It was a celebration of not-quite-garish excess as he employed eight backup dancers, almost as many costume changes and video backdrops, and made his grand entrance by floating above the audience on a platform dangling from the rafters. He didn't always sing - sometimes he didn't even bother pretending. But he was definitely dancing and had the sweat to prove it. During one of his moments suspended in midair, the fans beneath him were recipients of a minor downpour of perspiration.

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When he did belt out, especially on slower numbers such as "Nice & Slow" and "There Goes My Baby," it was a reminder that his voice is good enough to make him a star, but not the key ingredient in his success. Similarly, his role as unstoppable lothario is one he inhabits convincingly but, like his idol Michael Jackson, he's at his best when sticking to slick dance moves and irresistibly upbeat pop songs.

And there were plenty of those, a parade of chart-toppers, including "Love in This Club." The volume was almost unbearable at times as the giant, synth-heavy beats bounced off the walls and echoed throughout the arena. But it's not as if there were any subtleties to lose - the titles of the songs are an accurate indicator that this is must-move party music, often without equal.

The last of the evening's two dozen songs were "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love" and "OMG," a pair of recent singles that followed the same successful, market-tested formula and were received just as enthusiastically by the market, as seen by the still-dancing ticket holders. As Usher's glowing smile was reflected in the faces of his fans, it wasn't hard to envision him doing this very same thing a few decades down the road.

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By David Malitz  | December 20, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags:  Usher  
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Next: In concert: Liz Phair at 9:30 Club

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