On Monday in Toronto, Justin Bieber, newly Grammy-nominated for his Skrillex and Diplo–produced single “Where Are Ü Now,” performed a sold-out acoustic show for charity in a very 1,500 capacity venue for the city’s east side. It was his smallest hometown show in years (though Bieber is actually from Stratford, Ontario; results of last night’s show benefited the Stratford House of Blessing) and came just three weeks as soon as the release of Purpose, his fourth studio album, which had been quickly punted from chart and purchasers dominance by Adele’s 25.
Bieber appeared nonchalant, even listless, while sauntering throughout the stage from the Danforth Music Hall. Accompanied by a guitarist, he performed for around 75 minutes wearing a baby-pink Supreme toque, hands lodged firmly within the pocket of the oversized grey hoodie, against a backdrop of abstract murals by local street artist Jimmy Chiale. Bieber’s lax energy didn’t match the bunch, who perked up noticeably about halfway to the show, when his voice finally heated — community . never gave the impression to get fully there over the 23-song set.
Maybe it had been the lack of beats that made it happen: Bieber’s 2015 continues to be defined by idiosyncratic production. Or maybe that it was the fact that this show became a fan-fueled event to get a good cause, and for that reason lower stakes than a high priced arena show, but Bieber Unplugged amounted with a decent dress rehearsal. He started with songs through the new album (“What Do You Mean?,” “I’ll Show You” and “Purpose sheet music“) before stepping into a medley of seasonal tracks including “Christmas Love.” Though Purpose is, at its core, evangelical both in affirming Bieber’s Christianity and his awesome insistence over a redemption narrative, one with the best album cuts is often a bitter breakup track called “Love Yourself.” “My mama aren’t keen on you and she likes everyone,” goes the gaslight-y hook. But it’s an acoustic track, and for that reason marked the point from the show once the material matched the setting.
Love Yourself sheet music singer was able to hit the high notes on his best singles, “Baby,” “All That Matters” and “Boyfriend,” but sounded strained plus in need with the fullness of backing vocals. The show’s best moments came during surprising covers of Tracy Chapman’s outsider anthem “Fast Car” plus the Beatles’ “Let It Be,” the second of which allowed the singer to show off his impressively fluid keyboard chops.
Bieber is clearly undergoing things, and performing an acoustic reveal that called time for the squeaky-clean sound of his early teen-pop era shows a reluctance to loosen his ties compared to that time. It’s simply a surprise considering the fact that Journals, his excellent 2014 R&B mixtape, would be a sonic growth spurt. But the growing pains are becoming realer: In the past month or two he’s made headlines for scolding overzealous fans. Last night, he asked everyone else, “What would you like for Christmas?” and they also shouted, in near unison, “You!” He gave the impression to roll his eyes before saying, “Well, I just want my two front teeth.” These flashes of annoyance betray the belief that Bieber still straddles two worlds: one where he’s the polite pop star, and another where he’s an edgier, as well as perhaps more compelling, public presence.