Photo courtesy of Caroline Faulds
“I was 14 when he started off,” I overheard one girl said to to her friend as I stood in line to see Justin Bieber’s sold-out show at Danforth Music Hall in Toronto “And now he’s like, 21. I can’t believe I watched him turn into an adult.” Despite the assertion that a 21-year-old is anywhere close to an adult (which I is something only a 19-year old would say), it is pretty surreal to think that we have collectively watched a young kid from Stratford, Ontario become a global superstar, make a bunch of regrettable decisions, and get even more regrettable tattoos, turn into an “adult” who is on a quest for redemption. After all, that’s what the recent year has been all about for Bieber, a series of public apologies that culminated with the release of his Purpose, his most excellent album to date.
His Toronto concert was more symbolic than it was grandiose, with only 1500 people in attendance and all proceeds from the event going to Stratford House of Blessing, a charity from his hometown that provides “a wide range of confidential services for friends of the House Of Blessing” according to its Facebook page. As 1500 people collectively lost their shit when Justin Bieber came onstage clad in a hoodie and a beanie, you got the sense that he was forgiven.
Performing a 90-minute acoustic set along with his longtime guitarist Dan Kanter, Justin worked through a majority of Purpose, along with some Journals deep cuts, My World throwbacks, and some covers thrown in. “There are a lot of shows where we can jump around and stuff, but let's just listen to the music,” said Justin, and that’s exactly what the concert was about. Bieber has been in the spotlight long enough to know how to work a crowd on his own terms, and his professionalism was in full effect as he ran through his set. “Does anyone have any questions for me? You have to ask a real question though, not for like a picture of something.” A fan asked what his favourite candy was, he said Sour Patch Kids, and people went ballistic. That’s the thing about Justin: Almost everything he does evokes such a visceral response from people that it’s hard to tell when he does something well, or when he just does something. At one point Justin tried to find the oldest fan in audience to no avail due to all the screaming, and then tried to pinpoint the youngest fan, who turned out to be 14. “Only 4 more years,” said Justin with a sly smile, before quickly adding on “that’s too much Justin.”
At one point he launched into a Christmas medley, which turned out to not be the best idea since he forgot some of the lyrics. He did however change some of the lyrics he did remember to "Hanukkah" instead of "Christmas" to accommodate his guitarist, who Justin made sure to point out was Jewish. Bieber performed his own version of “Hotline Bling,” which sounded much better when you don’t have to hear it though an actual phone. As far as covers go, he tackled The Beatles “Let It Be” and Ne-Yo’s “So Sick,” the former of which showed off his piano playing skills, and the latter showing his limited range. He brought his little brother Jackson out to more screams, and ended the show to even more screams.
The recurring theme through Bieber’s show was “I'm not perfect,” a sentence he repeated often. And while he’s certainly telling the truth, most of the audience would disagree. Whether that’s due to a tangible change in human nature or just good PR is questionable, but the fact is he can still put on a good show.
Slava Pastuk is still a Belieber. Follow him on Twitter.