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Teen angel: Fans believe in Justin Bieber at high-energy, tightly-scripted Houston concert

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Justin Bieber, Believe Tour, angel wings
Wings across Texas: Justin Bieber takes flight in the opening number of his concert Monday night at the Toyota Center Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
Justin Bieber, Believe Tour, angel wings
Bieber makes a spot-on landing. Photo by Jane Howze
Alexis Ferrel, Gabriela Ferrel, Justin Bieber, Believe Tour
Alexis Ferrel and mom Gabriela Ferrel are big Bieber fans. Photo by Clifford Pugh
Justin Bieber, Believe Tour, October 2012
Bieber kept his shades during the first three songs. Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
Justin Bieber, Believe Tour, angel wings
Justin Bieber, Believe Tour, angel wings
Alexis Ferrel, Gabriela Ferrel, Justin Bieber, Believe Tour
Justin Bieber, Believe Tour, October 2012
News-CMH Staff-Clifford Pugh

Everyone in our office laughed when I told them I really wanted to go to the Justin Bieber concert Tuesday night at the Toyota Center. They had tussled over who would get to cover Madonna and Fiona Apple, but none of the jaded souls had a hint of curiosity about Bieber Fever

Having watched the Beatles, Michael Jackson and Madonna (the 1990 Blonde Ambition concert) in my lifetime, however, I was curious to see how the 18-year-old music phenom would stack up in a live performance.

 Bieber's tour is one of the few that doesn't give out review tickets (while he might be barely old enough to shave he apparently likes to hold onto every buck), but thanks to our friend Pat at The Ticket Experience, I scored a couple of tickets at the bargain price of $100 each. 

 What is the appeal of this short, scrawny white kid with the puffed-up hair and hip-hop attitude?

 At first I asked for the closest seats available to the stage, but Pat convinced me that suite seats were better. He knew the crowd would be very young and extremely noisy and he pointed out that the suites are comfortable and provide a great view of the arena floor (and he was right).

Even so, I sat next to three 16-year-olds who screamed at the top of their lungs throughout the 95-minute concert, singing every word of every song. At the end, one girl's face was streaked with tears as she told me that it was the best concert she had ever seen. 

Girls tearing up over young pop stars isn't anything new. Sinatra, Elvis and the Beatles elicited the same reaction when they and their fans were young. Even so, I remained puzzled: What is the appeal of this short, scrawny white kid with the puffed-up hair and hip-hop attitude?

Electricity in the air

Before the concert, an undeniable air of electricity surrounded the plaza outside the Toyota Center, which was filled with very young girls, some only 3 and 4, with their mothers. Many toted homemade signs that pledged their undying love to Bieber. One girl sat cross-legged on a towel emblazoned with the singers' face, with a handmade sign that said, "Scooter, I'm Waiting."

"That's the name of his manager," explained 16-year-old Renee Elkrab. "Sometimes he comes out before the show and brings fans in."

 "I love his story," Gabriela said. "He came up from nothing."

 Mother and daughter duo Gabriela and Alexis Ferrel playfully carried a sign that said, "Will Trade Mom for Tickets," although they already had their entry to the concert. "I love his songs," 13-year-old Alexis said in explaining Bieber's appeal.

"I love his story," Gabriela said. "He came up from nothing."

As my friend, Jane, and I weaved through the long lines of fans waiting to buy Bieber T-shirts in the arena concourse, we felt like the oldest couple there — and also the poorest. Fans were shelling out big bucks for the T-shirts; it made me wonder if the economy is really that bad.

Jane, a veteran concertgoer who has seen Coldplay four times this year, is the only person who would go to the Bieber concert with me. We agreed this was no Coldplay crowd.

On the wings of an angel

Ear-piercing screams ensued even before Bieber floated from the sky in 20-foot silver angel wings accented with guitars in the opening number, "All Around the World," from his latest album, Believe. He dismounted and performed a tightly choreographed routine with a slew of backup dancers in space suits amid confetti and fireworks on a spectatcular three-tiered set that resembled a sailing ship. 

The show moved briskly as Bieber alternated between heart-tugging ballads ("Love Me Like You Do," "One Less Lonely Girl," "As Long As You Love Me," "Catching Feelings") and high-energy dance tunes ("Beauty and a Beat," "Out of Town Girl," "She Don't Like the Lights," "Take You").

 At times, the songs seems repetitive, the production seemed scripted and the incessant prompting of the crowd to make more noise quickly grew tiresome.

 He teased the crowd of young girls by raising his T-shirt to show just a hint of bare abs while getting onto a cherry picker that took him far above the audience while he sang two ballads, "Be Alright" and "Fall."

He performed with only an acoustic guitar, which added a quiet contrast to the sensory overload of the bombastic production numbers but seemed a tad familiar. (Taylor Swift did the cherry picker routine much better at her concert at Minute Maid last year.)

Bieber also showcased his versatility, with a stint on the drums (during "Beauty and a Beat") and at a piano (while singing the song, "Believe.") And he took a stab at dancing in several well-choreographed numbers, but his moves came nowhere close to those of the late, great Michael Jackson.

Even so, the well-produced show was entertaining, with 17 numbers plus two encores, "Boyfriend" and "Baby," which might be one of the most deliciously silly and singable pop tunes in recent memory (rivaled only by Rihanna's "Umbrella").

Yet, at times, the songs seems repetitive, the concert seemed scripted and much of Bieber's patter sounded manufactured ("I love to be in Texas; you girls are so sweet here, Southern belles," he said somewhat unconvincingly at one point.) And the incessant prompting of the crowd to make more noise quickly grew tiresome.

Only three songs into the show an on-stage DJ urged the audience to scream louder and before the encores, an insulting video was played in which a comedian admonished the crowd to make more noise. It seemed particularly galling as the audience had been standing and applauding Bieber's every move throughout the concert. The singer doesn't need such cheap tricks to win the crowd over; he can do it through sheer personality.

Even so, I haven't decided if he has the potential to be the next Elvis or is destined to be a Backstreet Boy.

I think I'll wait to see him again in concert when he's 20 and then decide.

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