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Live review: Justin Bieber at the Hollywood Palladium

February 15, 2010 | 12:56 pm


“Justin Bieber wants you all to take three steps back,” the burly DJ said to the maddening crush of tween girls at the Hollywood Palladium’s stage gate on Sunday. Nothing doing. He asked them, again, to please give the 15-year-old towheaded Canadian R&B singer a bit of space, for their well-being and his alike before he came onstage.

Adolescent girls voluntarily separating themselves from 2010’s most deliriously beloved new tween-pop star? On Valentine’s Day? Good luck with that one, sir. The spires of fast-food trash and abandoned camping gear on Sunset Boulevard outside the Palladium box office suggested these kids were going absolutely nowhere.

Justin2Finally, the DJ gave up. “If you have Bieber fever, let me hear you scream,” he said. Lights dimmed and hormones flared. Bieber fever’s first symptom is a need to wail at glass-shattering, animal-frightening, Jet Propulsion Lab-rivaling ferocity to welcome your conquering hero.

For those who don’t spend much time around teenagers, Bieber is something of a new David Cassidy for the era of Auto-Tune. He has the classic prerequisites of stardom in this demographic: apple cheeks, stunning orthodontics, the sly pout of troublemakers from Tom Sawyer on forward.

But his ascent story -- posting cover videos of pop songs on YouTube that just so happened to win over his mentors Usher and Justin Timberlake -- belies a jackpot voice that, although it hasn’t quite dropped yet, is nimble and rakish. Young stars used to wow us by uncannily conveying adult emotions. Adult emotions, today? Bah. As Taylor Swift proved, the real money is in teenagers precisely documenting their teenageness for consumption by other teenagers.

Justin4 With just a seven-song EP to his name (a full-length follow-up, “My World 2.0,” is due out March 23), Bieber nonetheless has a death grip on pop and urban radio today, and for good reason. He has the free-associative instincts of his pop classmates -- he opened with “Love Me,” which tacks the indie-pop chorus from the Cardigans’ “Lovefool” onto en-vogue trance synthesizers and martial dance beats. His breakthrough single, “One Time,” helmed by white-hot producer Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, is an endearing, swaggering little thing in which Bieber convincingly jumps from Usher’s rapid-fire runs to pristine pop harmonies. The new cut “Baby” is even better, the overt adolescence of his voice buffed off for an undeniable disco ballad.

Bieber is a born charmer, occasionally riffing alongside his four backup dancers before alighting on a monitor to reduce the front rows to quivering devotion. And that voice is no studio trick; he tackled melismatic trills, sassy street inflections and coffeehouse acoustic pleas without so much as tousling his considerable bangs.

But one thing he hasn’t figured out yet is how to make an hourlong headlining pop set from his considerable charisma and goodwill. He spent around a quarter of the set nowhere in sight, either in service of unnecessary costume changes (Plaid shirt to hoodie to T-shirt? Gaga this is not) or for inexplicable breaks in which the DJ simply played snippets of album tracks from “My World 2.0.” A few confused jam-centric moments of the set felt as if Bieber’s band were compensating for some technical glitch. And Bieber’s a cappella encore of Chris Brown’s “With You” was rushed and -- astoundingly, given the audience here -- kind of anticlimactic.

But none of that seemed to dampen the night’s real king-making mission. The scuttle of young girls with “JB” face paint kicking through burger wrappers and fiercely texting into the still-early Hollywood night had spoken. In the words of one still on the edge of tears as she climbed into her mom’s awaiting car: “That. Was. So. Good.”

-- August Brown

Photos: Justin Bieber and fans at the Hollywood Palladium. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times