“It doesn’t matter if it’s country or R&B music — an emotion is an emotion, right?”
Usher’s question, posed to the 20,000 or so people filling half of AT&T Stadium Friday night, was valid, with the added benefit of deftly summing up the entire evening.
What seemed like a peculiar pairing on paper turned out to be a friendly, arena-worthy spectacle, honoring the work of a beloved local organization.
The R&B superstar, along with Blake Shelton, was on hand to help the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas mark its 90th anniversary at an elegant gala doubling as a rare opportunity to see two different musicians collaborate on a single, entertaining performance.
The set-up was unique, as the event split the stadium in half, draping a large curtain across the middle of the floor. With everyone seated on one side of the stadium, and only half the enormous television turned on, it gave the gigantic space the feeling of relative intimacy, which is no small feat.
The singers weren’t the only stars in the house. The “Unite Forever” gala featured appearances from several Dallas Cowboys legends, including Troy Aikman, Darren Woodson and Roger Staubach, as well as other luminaries like former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughters, Jenna and Barbara, and Gene Jones, wife of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
But the men of the hour were not upstaged, each performing a handful of hits from their respective catalogs, backed by sizable bands.
Shelton kicked things off with All About Tonight, peppered his set with plenty of humorous banter ( “I want y’all to have a damn good time,” he told the audience. “That’s why they brought in me and what’s-his-name.”), and didn’t shy away from self-deprecating stunts, including trotting out the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders as his “back-up dancers” and donning a cowboy hat, complete with a mullet straight out of the early ‘90s.
The Oklahoma native and coach on The Voice — there was no shortage of Voice clips to be had Friday — even tossed in a nod to George Strait, performing an admirable All My Ex’s Live in Texas.
Not to be outdone, Usher arrived bearing fire and go-for-broke choreography that had the audience on its feet and screaming. His turn on the sprawling stage was reminscent of his recent “UR Experience” tour, which brought him through North Texas in December.
Racing through smash singles like OMG, Love in This Club and You Remind Me, and deploying fireballs with abandon, Usher also took time to mention gratitude for United Way and its various projects.
The marquee attraction, however, was the pairing of these, as Jenna Bush Hager described them, “brothers from other mothers,” on a series of duets, something Usher said he’d wanted to try on The Voice, but hadn’t had the opportunity to do. (I guess he forgot about their appearance on the “Healing for the Heartland” telethon in 2013.)
The pair swapped verses on Home, the Michael Buble tune that was a huge hit for Shelton, among other selections.
As the night drew to a close, Shelton, gazing around the room, couldn’t stifle one more generous impulse.
“I think we should’ve televised this concert,” he remarked. “It would’ve been epic!”
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713