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Review: Justin Bieber rises up in Sleep Train Arena concert

"Where Are You Now" booms through Sleep Train Arena

A quick cell phone snippet of Justin Bieber performing in Sacramento.
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A quick cell phone snippet of Justin Bieber performing in Sacramento.

As the Sacramento Kings’ season winds down with a whimper and Sleep Train Arena faces its final days, Tuesday night was likely the last time the venue will witness this kind of roar.

Picture Justin Bieber rising from a platform as a sold-out crowd of more than 17,000 people watch in a collective freak out. It’s the kind of mass shrieking that could only be compared to the Kings winning the NBA finals at the buzzer – so many arms outstretched in devotion, so many cellphones held high, creating a glowing constellation of slowly draining batteries.

A few concerts remain at Sleep Train Arena before it shuts down for good and the action moves in October to downtown’s Golden 1 Center. Selena Gomez, Bieber’s former paramour, has a Sleep Train show scheduled in May. Janet Jackson is on the calendar for July.

But really, they’re no match for Bieber and his Beliebers. This is a crowd that responds to their beloved’s taking a chug from a water bottle with screams like they’ve all won the Super Lotto. And that kind of outpouring never let up during the 100-minute show, as the shaggy haired Bieber bounced on a trampoline during “Company” and ably strummed an acoustic guitar through an arena-wide sing-a-long of “Love Yourself.”

Tuesday’s show was the fourth date of Bieber’s “Purpose” tour. The 58-date outing is geared as a kind of return to form for a star who nearly lost his way. Instead of making appearances in courtrooms (reckless driving, vandalism) or a Brazilian brothel, Bieber is focusing on the concert stage to relay themes of redemption and relationship dramas.

The staging is a kind of Imax approach to concerts, complete with giant video screens, pyrotechnics, back-up dancers, lasers and any number of rising platforms. It’s a sensory overload kind of a show, even when so much of Bieber’s music is midtempo, like R&B slow jams with really loud drums. As the 22-year-old singer lay on his back during the confessional “Purpose,” with its hymnal piano chords and stately electric guitar soloing, it seemed like the house band from a contemporary mega-church was backing up the tune.

Bieber himself toggled between the teen-pop charms that first brought him fame, and an edgier side that inevitably emerges when singers don’t want to get typecast with the Nickelodeon set. He’s moved beyond the baby-faced mop-top image behind attached to such puppy love hits as “Baby” and “Boyfriend” (although he performed both songs during the concert) and apparently has a hankering for heavy metal imagery.

The angular lettering on his “Purpose” tour logo looks straight from Judas Priest – or Spinal Tap. Bieber was also spotted Tuesday afternoon at Guitar Center near Arden Fair while sporting a Slayer shirt. At one point during the show, Bieber wore a Marilyn Manson “Bigger Than Satan” T-shirt, which made for an interesting juxtaposition as he cheerily introduced and hugged elementary school-aged dancers after performing “Children.”

But for all the spectacle, and the occasional lifting of his garments to show off those abs, the Biebs is a bit tentative as a performer. While his backing dancers twisted into poses that would impress even the most pliable of yoga instructors, Bieber takes a more economical approach with the choreography, moving with a too-cool-for-school, slightly detached air. He’s not an especially buoyant presence, and he’s not prone to extended bits of stage banter. The show, which spans Bieber’s catalog, sticks to a fairly tight script, and included wardrobe breaks so Bieber could change into various iterations of distressed flannel and skinny pants.

Bieber’s show hit its stride when featuring his latest forays into electronic dance music, through such tracks as “As Long As You Love Me” and “Where Are U Now,” the hit collaboration with EDM producer heavyweights Skrillex and Diplo.

VIEW: Gallery of Justin Bieber’s Purpose World Tour at Sleep Train Arena

No matter if Bieber was pop-and-lock dancing to these tunes or singing an acoustic ballad, this largely female crowd came to scream along. Many were on mother-daughter dates, dressed in their Instagram modeling finest. An occasional chaperoning dad banking points toward Father’s Day also was spotted, but in this land of Beliebers, assembled in the waning days of Sleep Train Arena, it was clear who was king.

Chris Macias: 916-321-1253, @chris_macias

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