Concert review: Justin Bieber at the Schottenstein Center

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Justin Bieber's appearance at a packed Schottenstein Center on Thursday featured massive, high-tech video screens, thunderous, EDM-tinged beats, pyrotechnics, a trampoline suspended 30 feet above the audience and a closing number accompanied by what amounted to an indoor waterfall. Even so, the concert still felt somehow understated.

A large part of this could be attributed to the pop star's detached demeanor. When he wasn't dancing his way through the more upbeat numbers, he tended to lope around the diamond-shaped catwalk as though he were on a casual afternoon stroll in the park. In tandem with his omnipresent poker face - save for the brief smile he cracked prior to "Children," the pop star carried himself as though he were auditioning for the role of Anton Chigurh in a reboot of "No Country for Old Men" - this created a sense of distance, as though Bieber were seeking a degree of remove from the chaos surrounding him.

It's an attitude reflected in Bieber's fourth (and best) album, Purpose, from 2015, which found the musician stepping back and offering atonement for his various TMZ-documented missteps, including a highly publicized egging of a neighbor's home and a brief on-camera moment where he confused a mop bucket with a urinal. "I just need one more shot at forgiveness," he sang on the earnest, electro-tinged "Sorry," which closed out the 90-minute set. "So let me redeem myself tonight."

If Bieber is growing up, well, so is his audience. Near the midpoint of the set, the musician asked how many 11-year-olds were in attendance, and a small cheer went up. He then asked how many 12-year-olds were in the crowd, followed by 13, 14 and so on. The roars grew louder with each number, reaching a crescendo as Bieber counted into the early 20s.

Fittingly, the concept of coming of age in the public eye surfaced on a handful of numbers here, including the concert opening "Mark My Words," which he delivered from the inside of a glass cube (or house, if you will). On "I'll Show You," Bieber crooned about feeling trapped - "My life is a movie and everyone's watching," he sang - while penned in a tight cage that resembled an MMA fighting ring.

Occasionally, however, the musician's detachment translated as indifference.

Introducing "Life Is Worth Living," the singer explained he hit the snooze button on his alarm seven times earlier in the day, and there were times he carried on as though a few more turns might have done some good. During the more upbeat numbers, it wasn't unusual for Bieber to let the microphone drop to his side, allowing the backing track to do the heavy vocal lifting. And while he's a willing dancer, there's still a degree of stiffness to his movement, as though he's counting out the steps in his head as he's working through the routine.

Despite the outsized arena production - the video screens transported Bieber to realms that ranged from the inside of a vintage Atari game (the appropriately digitized "As Long As You Love Me") to O-Ren Ishii's "Kill Bill" lair - the best moments were the most scaled back. On the slinky, seductive "Hold Tight," Bieber flashed the pliability and power he's developed as a pop singer. "Purpose," in turn, played out as an intimate exchange between the musician and his fans, Bieber shaking hands with audience members as he delivered lines about feeling grateful for this second chance.

At one point, the musician even managed to shrink the arena down to living room size, performing a pair of stripped-down acoustic tunes while seated on a two-seat couch positioned at the end of the catwalk.

"I never like to admit I was wrong," he sighed on "Love Yourself," sounding somehow alone even as an audience of thousands belted out every word.