Live review: KIIS-FM's Wango Tango, featuring Ludacris, Usher, Justin Bieber, Ke$ha, others at Staples Center
Among the many revelations delivered Saturday night at Staples Center, where L.A.’s pop-radio powerhouse KIIS-FM presented its annual Wango Tango concert, perhaps the most noteworthy was this: Brody Jenner from “The Hills” has finally contracted a case of Bieber Fever.
If the preceding sentence consists primarily of unfamiliar words, you’re probably one of the three or four humans who fall outside the purview of KIIS’ mission, which is to provide the big-tent soundtrack to Right Now. (Alternatively, your name might be Andy Rooney.)
With an eclectic lineup populated in part by slick dance-popsters (Justin Bieber, Iyaz), club-friendly hip-hoppers (Ludacris, B.o.B.), a French house-music maven (David Guetta) and whatever it is we’re calling Ke$ha, Wango Tango works in giddy opposition to the idea that the music industry no longer produces stars capable of reaching across demographic lines.
Saturday’s five-hour show didn’t always hit its target, but that might only have been because the target kept moving.
This year’s headliner was Usher, the Atlanta R&B veteran whose recent “Raymond vs. Raymond” album announced his return to raunch after a brief stint as a domestic-minded crooner. At Staples, he deepened that reversion, performing hits such as “Nice & Slow” and “Lil Freak” while grinding suggestively against a series of objects -- some carbon-based (several female dancers), others not (a microphone stand, the stage floor).
Throughout his 30-minute set, Usher sang and danced with the precision of a professional; “U Got It Bad,” with a stripped-down tribal-groove arrangement, was especially impressive. Yet coming as it did after high-energy appearances by Ludacris and Akon (the latter of whom stage-dived twice), Usher’s performance felt a little lackluster. His closing number, the pulsing Eurodance track “OMG,” didn’t quite earn its Webspeak-derived title.
Usher protégé Bieber suffered no such shortage of intensity; this pint-sized Canadian’s six-song set was by far the most enthusiastically received of the evening. (Add a couple of exclamation points to “OMG” and you’re getting there.) Bieber offers the latest iteration of a proven puppy-love formula deployed by, among others, New Kids on the Block, ’N Sync and the Jonas Brothers, and though there’s something of a charisma vacuum at work in his music, he enlivened all the old tricks well enough Saturday night.
Generously sharing his thoughts with a KIIS DJ following Bieber’s performance, Jenner admitted that the 16-year-old had made him a fan. Watch out, world.
Bieber wasn’t the only newly arrived star at Wango Tango. There was also Ke$ha, who took the stage wearing a Wonder Woman-inspired costume (or half of one, anyway) and spent her 20 minutes there throwing a kind of simulated house party. Before she sang her hit “Tik Tok,” she announced that Saturday was the birthday of one of her band members, then presented a cake in the shape of a woman’s breast, which ended up smeared across the floor in no time. The moment felt exceedingly true to Ke$ha’s real-world existence.
Adam Lambert seemed intent on summoning a similar jolt of transgressive energy but came up short, offering plenty of fine-grain glam-rock detail (including a rhinestone-encrusted in-ear monitor) but little of the in-your-face spectacle he delivered during his climb toward fame on “American Idol.”
Inside the big tent at last, Lambert went unexpectedly small.
-- Mikael Wood
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