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by kenn on 8/23/2004 04:32:00 PM

Motion makes the magic in Usher concert

He breakdanced and moonwalked. He executed a backflip and a handstand. He raced around the stage, and danced in elegant slow motion.

Usher Raymond, known professionally as Usher, didn't distinguish himself as a vocalist Saturday night at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford. But the 25-year-old R&B heartthrob left no doubt that he's quite a dancer. Except for the frequent interludes when he was backstage, changing costumes, he was in constant motion throughout his 100-minute set.

His tour, which also comes to Madison Square Garden Oct. 13 and 14, is titled, "The Truth Tour." This is a reference to his recent "Confessions" album (which has sold more than five million copies since being released in March) and its signature track, "Confessions Part II," about a man who sadly, soberly tells his girlfriend he has made another woman pregnant, and asks for forgiveness.

There wasn't much repenting in Saturday's show. Usher ripped off his shirt during "U Got It Bad," flirted with his dancers at the end of "U Remind Me," and dressed like a pimp for "Bad Girl." He danced suggestively with a female volunteer during "Superstar," and nuzzled with her on a couch.

There were plenty of dance numbers in the show, but unlike many of his peers, Usher never resorted to lip-synching. As a result, though, some of his singing on these songs sounded choppy.

He didn't fare much better when he stood still: his crooning and occasional rapping were rarely more than competent. As a vocalist, he was most impressive on "Yeah!," singing with the jittery energy of a young, hungry Michael Jackson.

The set featured guest appearances by DJ Just Blaze, who entertained during one of the costume changes, and rapper Kanye West.

West had originally been scheduled to present a full set before Usher and after show-opener Christina Milian. But he didn't make it to the arena on time. "Due to airline cancellations, Kanye West will not be performing tonight," announced signs posted around the arena.

West finally arrived at 10:35 p.m., as Usher was nearing the end of his set, and Usher graciously let him take the stage for two numbers. West apologized, then said he had just taken a four-hour cab ride from Baltimore.

A veteran hip-hop producer who released his first solo album, "The College Dropout," in February, West made the most of his miniset, showcasing his smooth rapping with "All Falls Down" and "Jesus Walks."

The latter is an exceptionally clever song about holding onto one's faith in the modern world, with lines like "The way Kathie Lee needed Regis, that's the way I need Jesus" and "They said you can rap about anything except for Jesus/That means guns, sex, lies, videotape/But if I talk about God my record won't get played."

Milian, who was born in Jersey City (though she grew up in Maryland), added little to the show with her three-song, ten-minute opening set.

She sang to prerecorded backing tracks, with just two dancers accompanying her. Her songs were catchy, upbeat and nondescript -- the sort of disposable pop that can always find an audience if it's promoted in the right way.

Perhaps the most telling thing about the carefully choreographed, utterly unspontaneous set was that Milian -- who has hosted the MTV series "Wannabes," and co-wrote and sang on Jennifer Lopez' 2001 hit, "Play" -- didn't expand it to compensate for West's absence.

In the future, maybe she should bring along some extra backing tracks, and prepare some more dance routines, just in case.

Usher, West and Milian will perform at Madison Square Garden, Seventh Avenue and 32nd Street, N.Y., at 8 p.m. Oct. 13-14. Tickets are $49.50-$89.50. Call (201) 507-8900 or visit www.ticketmaster.com

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