Justin Bieber's acoustic Toronto gig delights fans

Justin Bieber whipped his devoted fans into holiday hysterics with an intimate acoustic concert at Toronto's Massey Hall on Wednesday, a small gathering that would have been downright tranquil — if not for all that shrieking.

Justin Bieber whipped his devoted fans into holiday hysterics with an intimate acoustic concert at Toronto's Massey Hall on Wednesday, a small gathering that would have been downright tranquil — if not for all that shrieking.

Even with cameras recording the event for a TV special airing Thursday, the pop star from Stratford, Ont., maintained a sense of loose spontaneity over the course of a one-hour, 50-minute show, tossing off performances of obscure tunes and pulling his family members onstage to chat.

"I would usually perform for a lot more people but I wanted to make it more intimate for my fans," Bieber told the packed hall, which can hold an audience of just under 2,800. 

"Everywhere is great, they treat me so well, but it doesn't compare to Toronto."

The raw, cozy nature of the 17-year-old's holiday homecoming — placid and relaxed though it was — only seemed to further the furor of his fans, many of whom lined up for hours under a persistent afternoon drizzle in anticipation of the show.

Some creative individuals even passed the time by singing "It's raining, raining, raining, oh!" to the tune of Bieber's ubiquitous hit Baby

Tickets — which benefited charity — were reportedly snatched up in under a half hour, and given that opportunistic hucksters were trying to hawk tickets on Craigslist for more than $1,000 per pair, it stands to reason that each audience member really wanted to be there — other than some of the parents, perhaps.

They screamed Bieber's name for hours before he took the stage, wore his initials in face paint and snatched up so much Bieber-branded paraphernalia, the merchandise booth's selection was skeletal before the show even started.

Bieber eventually had to encourage the crowd to quiet down after a raucous opening performance of Baby, noting: "I need to be able to hear [myself]."

But he made his appreciation for their enthusiasm obvious with the casual, even rambling nature of the show.

Holiday music

As expected, many of his performances were culled from Under the Mistletoe, Bieber's holiday release that has been certified three times platinum in Canada and once in the U.S.  With its gentle, unassuming mix of re-interpreted Christmas classics and original compositions, Under the Mistletoe presented easy-to-miss evolutions in Bieber's sound, from his maturing voice — cooing smoothly with no pubescent squeaks — to the sparse acoustic-guitar accompaniment, increasingly his go-to sonic device.

'I feel like this is laid-back, we're just hanging out'—Justin Bieber

That was the setup on this evening, just Bieber accompanied by guitarist Dan Kanter strumming an acoustic (though Bieber also wielded a guitar for a couple tunes). But he didn't stick to holiday tunes, mixing in some of his other well-known hits like Never Say Never and One Time, a work-in-progress new tune Be All Right and even impromptu covers of Lil Wayne's How to Love and Matchbox 20's 3 a.m.

After exhausting most of his catalogue, he started taking requests, asking audience members to raise their hands instead of shouting en masse. When Kanter didn't know how to play one fan-demanded tune — the holiday song Fa La La — Bieber sang it a cappella.

Casual night for Bieber

With the stage appropriately decorated with a half-dozen Christmas trees, heaps of fake snow and a hanging full moon (which might have explained the audience's persistent howling), Bieber's banter was really more akin to casual chit-chat. He found time to discuss his head cold — "Now my nose is running," he pointed out — polled fans on which Ontario towns they drove from and asked repeatedly what the crowd wanted for Christmas.

"I feel like this is laid-back, we're just hanging out," said Bieber, clad in a red-and-black plaid shirt and jeans with a Canadian flag hanging out of his pocket. "We're really just around the campfire, having fun."

Bieber also noted that his parents, grandparents and childhood friends were in the audience, and invited his adorable three-year-old sister onstage so they could coo Baby together and conduct an impromptu interview, with Bieber as the questioner. 

"No boyfriends, right?" asked Bieber, who spent the afternoon making an appearance at a local food bank before skating with his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.

While his album features turns from such A-listers as Mariah Carey, Usher, Boyz II Men and the Band Perry, Bieber wasn't joined by any guests during the show. But the enthusiastic set decking Massey Hall didn't seem to mind — almost every single time Bieber paused for even a moment, the crowd shrieked. And the singer, for his part, seemed genuinely happy to be home. Several times, he claimed the following tune would be his last before changing his mind and continuing on.

"Thank you for getting to know me," he told the audience near the end of the show. "I just wanted it to be us and really just have a special moment."