AU ABROAD

Live Review: Justin Bieber + Cody Simpson - Allphones Arena, Sydney (29.11.13)

With his name etched onto the main vein of pop music history, Justin Bieber showed up to the first of his two Sydney concerts with a cocksure attitude and a hell of a production; backing him up for what was a very entertaining performance by one of the most divisive figures in the music industry.

The Allphones Arena lobby was a messy scene of teenage girls running all over the place and screaming to each other “THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING.” I have never heard so many announcements begging people to calm down (even at the train station, there were more than usual). It was hard to deny the excitement in the air, and even if I didn’t feel it myself, it made for an environment that felt more like a blissful playground than most concerts I’ve been to.

Australian answer to Justin Bieber, Cody Simpson was apt support and did well to justify his spot. The 16 year old singer has a slick voice , lending perfectly to his playful songs, and coming across very well live. He didn’t have the over-the-top production like Bieber, but Cody and his backup dancers still stirred the mostly young crowd into frenzy, while taking his best stabs at popular dance moves like the ‘dougie’ and the ‘cat daddy.’ His most recognisable song "Pretty Brown Eyes", caused an ear-splitting collective scream – giving me an idea of how many times I would have to block my ears throughout the night – and remained the high-point of his set. Cody didn’t quite match the confidence and postured swagger of Bieber, but he put on a fair display of pop sensibility, excellent timing, and a knack for performing his radio-friendly songs.

The final 10 minutes of the wait for Bieber came with a shiny countdown on the massive screen above the three-tiered stage. After every minute on the clock the collective screams would get louder and louder to the point of nausea, but nothing could compare to when that clock finally hit the last 10 seconds. It felt like New Year’s Eve with Bieber exploding onto the stage, dressed in all-white and donning black sunglasses after he just seemingly appeared as a shadow of Icarus against the big screen. Strutting down the extended stage to deafening shrills, Bieber seemed to very much enjoy just soaking it all in, looking out at all the “beliebers” and making them wait for his opening song.

"All Around the World" brought the expected off-key sing-a-long, almost overpowering Justin’s voice until he stopped dancing and just let the vocal acrobatics fly alongside the jilted electro beat. The low notes and the falsettos are strong live, but cracks begin to show when Justin attempts anything more.

On the songs with a bit more substance such as the pleasant "Catching Feelings" and "Out of Town Girl" Bieber is at his strongest as a musician; much stronger than on singles like the insipid "Eenie Meenie".

Being a star with an obviously massive pull, Bieber has managed to surround himself with quite the talented band, providing some real body to his live translations. Excellent guitarist Dan Kanter remained one of the best things about the entire night, strumming on the Spanish guitar to take songs like the aforementioned ‘Catching Feelings’ and build them into artful live versions, alongside an equally impressive drummer. Surprisingly, Bieber is pretty decent on the drums himself, as he jammed away with a solo halfway through the set. There was even a short-lived moment with the bassist where he, along with Bieber, gave us a small cover of Tyga’s "Rack City", teasing the fans and reminding us all that the Justin’s ‘new-ish’ image is largely influenced by pop-rap.

A few scattered video packages taking us through a timeline of Bieber’s journey provided a nice touch, and was a gift to his core fanbase who could not stop screaming whenever they saw a baby Justin singing into the camera. One thing that should have been capitalised on a bit more was the few videos that introduced songs with a theme; like a video of Justin in a small action-flick, running from the paparazzi only to shoot up on stage with a brand new costume and give us a flashy performance of "She Don’t Like the Lights".

After taking us back to his days as a YouTube hopeful with songs from the start of his journey, Justin dug into the centre of the hype with monster hits "Never Say Never", "Beauty and a Beat", (complete with a surprising interpolation of Ozzy Osbourne’s "Crazy Train") and "As Long as You Love Me"; all big, strobing moments circling around softer notes like "Believe" - which saw Justin playing away on a pristine grand piano – and ‘One Less Lonely girl’ – which had him pick a seemingly random girl from the audience and serenade her on stage.

The two-song encore had Bieber give us two of his biggest hits with "Boyfriend" and "Baby", one-two punch for any kid that hadn’t already fallen back into their seats from screaming so much. Amongst all the cheap-looking pyro and puffs of smoke, Justin and his backup dancers sold the solid performances with excellent timing and an irresistible charm.

Heaping all the problems a lot of hipsters have with popular music onto Bieber’s shoulders is a pretty idiotic occurrence that has become far too frequent across the annals of the internet in the past years (even celebrity gossip blogs play into the Bieber-hate in order to get more hits); Justin’s attitude and image as a clean-cut pop star, slowly crossing over into a world tinged with the usual commercial rap tropes, is something which makes him an easy target and a very hard-to-like star. Though, if one was to at least try see through any bias, they would find that Bieber really isn’t as bad as most people of legal drinking age make him out to be. Given that he is putting on an enjoyable-enough performance at only 19 years old, it seems more and more likely that with some maturity, an attitude adjustment, and a bit of vocal refinement, Bieber has what it takes to redeem himself in the eyes of many.

Justin Bieber performs his second Sydney show tonight, buy tickets here