OTTAWA - Justin Bieber managed, all in one go, to be the centre of attention and entirely superfluous in the sold-out Ottawa stop of his My World tour.
When he entered -- in a man-sized metal gerbil ball -- the mostly teenaged and female crowd screamed.
When he sang, they screamed.
When he stopped, they screamed.
When he asked how everyone was doing, they screamed.
And so forth.
The 16,500 fans at Scotiabank Place had calmed somewhat by the time third track U Smile emerged from the enthusiastic cacophony, resulting in a surprisingly sweet singalong by fans who knew every word.
At the end of U Smile -- a quiet coda stripped of the over-production that dogged most songs -- Bieber proved he can still sing, delivering a pleasant straight-tone.
From a heart-shaped frame that eased out over the audience, he accompanied himself on acoustic guitar for Never Let You Go and Favourite Girl. He hit the most important notes in a slightly husky voice, far from the bubblegum boy-soprano on his studio albums. That touch of rawness bodes well for his maturing voice.
As a showman, he needs work.
He danced, moving more or less rhythmically to the music, but Michael Jackson he ain't.
Bieber foolishly covered Wanna Be Starting Something, but was shown up on the dance floor by his break-dancing back-up dancers and turned in his worst vocal performance of the night.
Earlier, he had looked awkward doing backflips on a harness in mid-air, after an admittedly super-cool vertical walk up a skyscraper prop.
His stage patter ("what's up everyone?") defined banal. Time to replace the swagger coach with a staff writer.
The best piece of theatre came during One Less Lonely Girl, in which a dumbstruck teen was serenaded by Bieber on centre stage, then given a bouquet.
She was seated -- a good thing, because she likely would have keeled over, mouth still agape. When Bieber gave her a hug, she looked like she wouldn't let go.
But for tired traditionalists who believe concerts should be about performance, the show was abysmal. Setting up sound for an arena gig is always a thankless task; sure enough, the bass was muddy, the vocals were mostly indistinguishable and the instruments little more than throbbing white noise.
That said, the backup dancers performed an a capella medley, singing strong, tight harmonies with liberal sprinklings of deft beat-boxing.
Opener Sean Kingston lumbered on stage to sing Eenie Meenie with Bieber, but constrained himself to grunting on the off beats as Bieber -- and an overpowering canned vocal track -- filled in for the vocals.
The crowd, however, distinguished itself singing the hook.
While Bieber was the reason thousands turned the home of the Sens into the Abode of the Bieb, they should have saved their money and had a singalong instead.