Shortly into Usher's headlining set at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday, a pair of glittering black high-top shoes slid across the upper stage all by themselves.
Looking like some complementary Michael Jackson footware - to go with MJ's "sparkle socks" and famous glove - they stopped mid-stage, just below the current R&B song-and-dance superstar. "Would it be all right with you if I filled these shoes?" asked Usher Raymond IV.
Of course, the response was rapturously positive. Everything he did Thursday was greeted with wild cheers, mostly from grown women screaming like tweens at a Justin Bieber gig today - or as they had in years past, when Usher, 32, was the day's hot young Bieber (an actual Usher protege).
But Usher's ambitious Jackson connection has been a given for years. And it was obvious before the Thursday concert's brief tribute moments, as Usher soared into a series of Jackson-ian falsetto riffs to conclude his pleading "U Remind Me" and danced into the more player-ful "U Don't Have to Call," both from his 2001 disc 8701.
Drawing from his two commercially successful if critically suspect collections of 2010 - the Grammy-nominated Raymond v. Raymond (for "Best Contemporary R&B Album") and Versus - Usher's current "OMG" tour has him returning to some of his own earlier aesthetic personae. Although reflective on his "Best Male R&B Vocal Performance" Grammy-nominated single "There Goes My Baby" (on both 2010 albums), he's thematically back on the prowl, post-divorce.
The particularly salacious "Trading Places" came off better in Philly than it had the other night up north. Going beyond the show's entertaining pyrotechnic embellishments and energetic dance crew (four women, four men), Usher enlisted a young lady from the audience to recline on a divan as he crooned of position-swapping's joys. The guest did not inadvertently kick him in the face as she crossed her legs while on her back (as a New York fan did on Monday when she was invited onstage).
Rising, well-received opener Trey Songz - who started 2010 with a high-profile headlining show at the Tower on New Years' Day - brought his own variations of smooth-singing seduction. Differing from Usher, his inspiration remains more R. Kelly than M. Jackson.