In a halftime set that touched on more than a dozen songs, the R&B star delivered a raucous Atlanta party and a lesson in intimate showmanship.
A few minutes into Usher’s dynamic and sly Super Bowl LVIII halftime show performance Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas came a moment of uncommon, almost startling calm.
Alicia Keys had just appeared, in a sequined red jumpsuit and matching encrusted gown, and rather gratuitously flubbed the opening note of her hit piano ballad “If I Ain’t Got You.”
She recovered, and as she approached the end of the chorus, you could hear Usher singing in quiet harmony as the camera panned back, settling on the two of them at opposite ends of Keys’s piano. Usher picked up the final line of the chorus — alone, smooth and confident, almost whispered — before Keys returned to share the last note.
Allegiant Stadium holds approximately 65,000 people, but in that instant, there were only two. It was one of the quietest sequences in halftime history, a remarkable testament to the gifts of Usher, a performer of precise detail who is enjoyed best with rapt attention.
Most of the rest of the performance — which touched on more than a dozen songs — was grander in scale, designed to fill a football field: A small-bore, granular-gestured showcase gave way to an explosive party. But what this set did so well was make plain that Usher’s commitment to minutiae and his capacity for grandeur are fired in the same cauldron. He can control the stage when it is packed to the gills, and he can do it alone.