From the onset, there was little doubt about the intent of the Purpose World Tour, which visited the Sprint Center on Wednesday night.
Ostensibly, this was Justin Bieber’s mea culpa, his re-entry into a world he’d never really abandoned but one from which he’d drifted after so much bad behavior.
“This is my purpose,” he sighed, pointing downward as he lay on the stage, on his side, propped up on one elbow, before singing the song “Purpose,” which contains the lyric: “I’ve made a few mistakes / I’m the only one to blame.”
Penance is one of the themes of the tour and the “Purpose” album, his first recording in three years — the song “Sorry” is one of its hit singles — but instead of repentance, the show immediately expressed another theme and design: bludgeon a big crowd with an incessant barrage of sights and sounds.
For more than 95 minutes, Bieber and his entourage — a five-piece band and 12 dancers/gymnasts — threw down a show that quaked with energy and electricity, much of it coming from the 16,000 or so fans who nearly filled the arena.
The production was spectacular: rising and falling platforms, trap doors, ramps, bridges, a Plexiglas booth that rose above the stage, a screened octagon that tossed lasers and lights and what looked like a large boxing ring that dropped from the ceiling and hung above the floor. Its mat was a trampoline, which gave Bieber and his dance crew a chance to bounce and flip to their hearts’ desires during the song “Company.” Bieber executed a few backflips and stuck the landings each time.
There were flashpots, plumes and wafts of fog, lasers, showers of sparks and plenty of graphics projected on the many video screens, including those on the large ramp that led from the bandstand to the stage floor. And there was almost nonstop dancing, acrobatics and costume changes. (For most of the show, Bieber wore what looked like a grunge-era uniform: a flannel shirt with another tied around his waist, torn jeans and a bandana that gathered a shock of dreadlocks atop his head.)
The set list drew heavily from the “Purpose” album, which is a departure from Bieber’s previous albums, veering away from the tight, bright Top 40 pop format and into modern R&B and electronic dance music. The several ballads muted the music vibe but not the mood in the arena, which was feverish all night.
This was Bieber’s third Sprint Center show and his first since October 2012, when he was 18 and a teen idol, one who primarily drew teen and pre-adolescent girls. He has grown and changed since then and so has his audience. After his drum solo, delivered from a kit suspended above the floor, Bieber polled his crowd, asking fans to scream for their age group. He started with 10-year-olds, which aroused gales of screams, but so did 15-, 20-, 25- and 30-year olds. And 40- and 50- got a response too.
The production was clean, but the sound was sketchy here and there. Lyrics were often hard to discern; so was Bieber’s chitchat between songs. The excessive volume didn’t help. Bieber appeared to be getting assistance from vocal effects and augmentations, though he was singing on his own during an acoustic set, where he sat on a couch, played guitar and sang a few songs, including “Home to Mama.”
He spent much of the night in motion, either dancing alone or in step with his ensemble or hopping and running about the stage. During “Frostbite,” he and one of his dancers showed off impressive acrobatic choreography, which included Bieber flipping her over his shoulders and back.
There were plenty of euphoric sing-alongs: during “Love Yourself,” “As Long As You Love Me,” “What Do You Mean” and “Baby.” For “Children,” he was joined by extra dancers: a small troupe of young ladies from around Kansas City, two of whom were wearing Royals jerseys.
After his confessional rendition of “Purpose,” Bieber and crew delivered a melodramatic grand finale. The song “Sorry” included a heavy rainstorm in which he and his dancer spun, bobbed and sloshed. Bieber failed to negotiate his entrance down the ramp and into the storm, slipping and falling on his butt. He quickly recovered and joined his drenched dancers in the trough, which by then contained several inches of water.
No apologies necessary for that, nor for anything that preceded it. Rather than an act of contrition, the Purpose Tour felt more like a demonstrative declaration of a his re-emergence into the pop world.