I think it's important to acknowledge that I am not in any way the target audience for the Jonas Brothers. In the sea of pre-teen girls and their mothers standing in line to get into the Rose Garden, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Committed to doing fun things with my daughter (despite my personal tastes in music), I had decided to take her to one of the most buzzed about concerts so far this year. I definitely felt out of place in an event dominated by debates over which Jonas Brother people think is 'cuter' (the consensus seems to be Joe).
As we waited for the show to start the stadium erupted in a deafening wave of screams any time anything Jonas Brothers related appeared on the overhead screens during the pre-show promotions. The Jonas Brothers seem to be able to instill that 'boy crazy pre-teen frenzy' that only a handful of boy bands can command. The sea of pre-teens waiting for the show carried fan signs, home-designed Jonas Brothers T-shirts, and were adorned by photos of the three Jonas Brothers.
As the lights dimmed the stadium was literally filled with screams (good thing I brought my Ear Love!). First to meet this adoring crowd was the relatively new Honor Society (watch the On Portland Interview with Honor Society), a band who described themselves as a 'Myspace Band' (or a band that built its following initially from myspace). While Honor Society only played a handful of songs, the audience responded exceptionally well to them. The final song from Honor Society, 'See U in The Dark', was the clear favorite of their set. The song snapped and popped like a good pop anthem, noticeably elevated from the rest of their set and is sure to become a hit. I was surprised at how short the set was; I would have expected them to do another song or two especially considering how well they were received.
Following Honor Society was a unique all-girl band from South Korea called Wonder Girls. Dressed in 60's chic (think The Supremes), Wonder Girls is an odd infusion of retro cool and bubble gum pop. I don't think that the audience for the Jonas Brothers really knew what to make of them. Their first set, a single song, was so short it was hard to get a real sense of them (check out this video of their first set). Wonder Girls performed a second number after Jordin Sparks's set and an introduction by Paul Jonas (the Jonas Brother's father) called Nobody. The song itself was pretty catchy but the dance that went along with it could only be described as odd. It'll be interesting to see if this Asian super group will find traction with American audiences. It could go either way.
Jordin Sparks, who I had seen a few years back, performed a much stronger set than the last time I saw her. Sparks had a much higher level of comfort on stage and seemed to connect well with the audience. Unfortunately there wasn't enough of spark in her performance and even her signature single "No Air" didn't have the punch that it should have. The highlight of Sparks's set was a rendition of Pretty Young Thing (PYT) in tribute to Michael Jackson, which Sparks performed with more energy and spunk than the rest of her set. Sparks seems constantly on the brink of breaking out and I think a lot of the raw goods are there, but she seems to be lacking the right material to bring her to the next level.
The stadium filled with lights and smoke as the main event launched like a rocket ship. With Queen's 'We Will Rock You' blasting, Nick, Joe and Kevin Jonas were raised from the depths of the center stage and spun around as if they were pop gods stuck in a doughnut display. The full stage configuration for the Jonas Brothers concert was impressive, presented as a 'theater in the round'. The stage brought the performers much closer to the audience and gave far more fans a really good seat over traditional staging. The light, smoke and stage show was nothing short of impressive. With layered video screens, hundreds of different light configurations and an ever-revolving center stage, there was always something catching the eye.
Musically I can't say I was amazingly won over by the Jonas Brothers. They are pure boy band pop through and through. The dynamic of the band is an interesting one. While many of the Jonas Brothers fans swoon over Joe Jonas, it's actually Nick Jonas who seems to have inherited most of his father's musical talent. Whether he's playing guitar, piano or drums Nick seems to be the dominant musical force of the trio. Joe saunters around the stage to the admiring screams of fans, but if you really pay attention you can see it's really Nick who's carrying the lead. The third brother (sort of like the fifth Beattle), Kevin seems to be happy in his supporting role, rarely taking center stage. Kevin seems firmly rooted in his backup position. For whatever reason, that dynamic just works and the band comes off as an unashamedly pop boy band that is more 'cute and swoon worthy' than sexual (like Justin Timberlake). I also really appreciate that although the band comes from a strong religious background, they don't bring that to their music.
While I may not have been completely won over by the Jonas Brothers' music, I was quite impressed by their performance. A highlight for me was Nick Jonas' rendition of "Black Keys" which was presented with him solo at a white piano in a cloud of smoke. After the song Nick spoke to the audience about his diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes and his commitment to push on in the face of adversity. The talk was an extremely skillful way of addressing a real serious issue (teenage suicide) and I thought that Nick Jonas did a phenomenal job of sending out an important message to his fans.
The set as a whole had its ups and downs as does their music. High points seemed to pivot around their break-out hits like "S.O.S" or "Burnin' Up" and fall flat around some of their weaker songs. A complete misstep was the performance of "Sweet Caroline", the notable Neil Diamond song. The band said they were doing the song for all the parents to get up and dance, but I think they've misjudged the age of their audience's parents. They would have done much better with a stand out Michael Jackson song than Manilow, and I was actually surprised that their set was absent of a song to pay tribute to Michael Jackson.
At a high or low the stage spectacular always seemed to keep the show flowing. A late set return of Jordin Sparks was an unexpected treat. Surrounded by the full lights and video spectacular, Sparks belted out the title track to her new album "Battlefield". The performances was legions beyond her opening set and showed the potential for Sparks when she has the right material. Also a particularly notable water effect was something I'd never seen at a concert before and was especially impressive.
I can't say that I was won over at the end and became a fan of the Jonas Brothers. I am clearly not their target audience, but having said that I did enjoy their show. The Jonas Brothers have put together a pure spectacle of light and sound that is entertaining to watch. For me, though, the real enjoyment was watching my daughter as she jumped, sang and swooned. Equipped with the right ear plugs, the screams of the fans were manageable and the stage show was entertaining enough to make the evening more than worth it.
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