BY ELYSA GARDNER
Gannett News Service
NEW YORK — For Usher, the high point of bringing his UR Experience tour to Madison Square Garden last Friday was winning over one of his toughest critics: younger son Naviyd Raymond, 5.
“He was sitting with his grandma,” Usher’s mom, the singer recalls two days later. Naviyd had been a naysayer before the concert, Usher insists, “but he went from, ‘I don’t like your music’ to ‘I liked your show!’ ”
USHER When: 7:30 p.m. Monday Where: United Center, 1901 W. Madison Tickets: $51-$189 Info: ticketmaster.com
Leaning back in a plush chair, speaking quietly — to preserve his voice for the next gig — Usher strikes a marked contrast to the animated figure who held forth at the Garden. His new show, coming to the United Center on Monday, is a high-octane affair, with a flamboyant horn section and exuberant backup dancers, whom he introduces to the crowd.
“The show focuses on the talents of each individual,” Usher says. They include artists he has mentored, such as choreographer Jamaica Craft, formerly one of his backup dancers. “I try to make everything I do represent aspects of my brand, not only as a vocalist but as a creative person who recognizes other creative people — a curator.”
The tour is not promoting an album, at least not one that has been completed yet. Buzz of a new record circulated this year, but Usher plans to release one in 2015 instead, drawing inspiration from his experiences on the road. “If there are opportunities to have a day off here, two days off there, I’ll go into the studio,” he says. “I’m doing it this way because I want the energy you feel from onstage to go directly into the music.”
Usher expects the resulting sounds to be “eclectic — that might sound like a bit of a cliché, but when I look into the audience each night, that’s what I see. The experience isn’t particular to a race or style or creed. I can’t quite categorize the music now, but it won’t be period-specific or genre-specific. People will just hear the spirit of it, and hopefully be moved by it.”
Next year, he’ll be seen playing the boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, a friend, in “Hands of Stone,” a biopic of the legendary pugilist Roberto Duran. The singer shed more than 20 pounds for the role. “It wasn’t about gaining muscle — it was about speed,” he says.
Though the film has wrapped, Usher is trying to maintain the healthy habits he adopted, which include a diet tailored to his blood type. He has been changed, too, by “obstacles over the past four years,” among them the death of his stepson by ex-wife Tameka Foster — also mom to Naviyd and Usher’s elder son, Usher V, 6 — in a 2012 accident, and the discovery that Usher V is diabetic.
“I’m with my children all the time in Atlanta,” Usher says. “When I’m on tour, they come in and out.” He likes to do things with them separately, to accommodate their different interests: “Usher’s more active; I can be out in the park with him for two hours, just throwing a ball around. Naviyd loves to read, loves to see shows.”
Usher stares out the window of his hotel room. “Having children changes how you look at life, what matters, what’s a priority. And then you have a few uphill battles — well, that makes you even more resilient.”
Gannett News Service