photo by Michele Sandberg
The Jonas Brothers
BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise
August 19, 2009
Better Than: The Backstreet Boys, N Sync, and NKOTB put together.
I felt a little ashamed as I slinked up to the BankAtlantic Center for the Jonas Brothers concert on Wednesday night. Here I was, an over-30 woman venturing to the far reaches of I-595 to see a trio of barely post-pubescent boys. Alone. (Long story -- my 9-year-old niece was supposed to come with, but plans fell through.) If the situation had been reversed, and I'd been a 30-odd-year-old man going to see Miley Cyrus solo, I probably would have been arrested.
Turns out, I need not have worried. There were plenty of fully grown women in the crowd, mostly moms of course, some of them looking like they were out to seduce the purity rings right off the Jonases' little fingers. I'm talking about the Kim Kardashian lookalike with the cleavage on display, who was trying to out-sex her 15-year-old daughter, or the yoga moms from Weston with their fat diamond rocks, and the lady from Wellington who said the JoBros were "hot" and then sniggered " They're supposedly 'pure'," using air quotes while her elementary-school-aged kids looked on, both mortified and confused. She had her opinions about how Kevin needed to shave his sideburns, and she hoped his fiancee wasn't here. It was cougar time.
Still, the majority of the 99.9 percent-female audience was probably in the 8- to 14-year-old age range; definitely more middle school than high school. This did not deter them from piling on lots of green and blue eyeshadow and wandering around in suggestive t-shirts like the one that called out to "Nick," the JoBro with diabetes, "I'm sugar-free."
There was, naturally, a disaster at the door. Every time I've seen a show at the BankAtlantic Center in the past few years, the opening band goes on promptly at 7 p.m. while the majority of the crowd is still trying to get through the bag check, which, I might add, is a joke. I totally could have smuggled in a fifth of Jack! But there was no need to -- considering the demographic, there was no line at all at the bar.
Even though I'd parked well before showtime, I missed the opening band, Honor Society, and caught American Idol winner Jordin Sparks midway through her set. The girl has an amazing voice, if you like that it-s-all-about-holding-a-high-note sort of singing that every AI contestant brings. Sparks would surprise me later in the night, but during her set, she seemed simply capable and sweet. While I felt happy for her rise from obscurity, her songs are essentially recycled ballads and overproduced pop tunes (one of her songs samples the 1983 freestyle hit "Let the Music Play"). I couldn't really understand the appeal for teenybopper girls watching a grown woman sing at them. It's like if I was 8 and saw, say, a Pointer Sister.
Sparks' backup band consisted of a long-haired guitarist in a vest doing a bouncy white-boy dance, another guy with dreadlocks, a girl with a prom dress and a top hat, and a Hot Topic-style "punk" with a blue mohawk. The forced attempt at diversity looked lame and obligatorily multi-culti. I thought back to my own high school years. Yeah, they were cliquey, but guess what? You picked a side. If you listened to Slayer or Black Flag, you sure as hell didn't hang out with the girls in choir. Concerts always started late, but that was OK because we were busy getting wasted in the parking lot. At my second concert ever (David Lee Roth when I was in the sixth grade) my dad squeezed the flashlight on his keychain to help a guy in front of us light a joint.
Also, in my day, we loved Jon Bon Jovi because he was cute, of course, not because of his music -- but his handlers never actually admitted that, for fear of alienating a male audience. I could tell that any such thinking had been long dismissed when a crowd-warmer-upper came out on stage and said, "Apparently, there's a future Mrs. Jonas in the audience..." Let me just say: this tactic worked.
Girls screamed. They screamed when the Jumbotron read "Scream if you love Nick!" And again when it said "Scream if you love Kevin!" It went on: "Scream if you u r in love with the Jonas Bros!" Then, "Be super quiet if you love the JB! Yeah, right -- SCREAM!" Um, they screamed when the Burger King commercial featuring the JoBros flashed on the screen.
The lights went down, smoke and lasers filled the stage, and Queen's "We Will Rock You" blasted through the speakers. Can you guess how the girls in the audience reacted? The Jonas Brothers popped up through the center of the stage and opened with their radio hit, "Paranoid", and all I could think of when I saw how tight their jeans were was: damn, they have some serious thigh muscles. I know -- I felt dirty.
For the most part, Jonas Brothers songs are straightforward modern radio rock -- OK but overproduced, and with too many layers. (There were probably 15 people in their band -- I lost count after noting a 3-piece horn section, two violinists, two drummers, a keyboard player, and a backup guitarist or several.) These aren't songs we'll be listening to in 20 or even two years from now.
But for showmanship, I gotta hand it to them. For a 16-, 20- and 21-year-old (or whatever) they have tremendous poise and confidence. It didn't look like they had an insecure bone in their bodies. Joe sauntered onstage looking like he'd just gotten home from school and was mildly bored, occasionally playing around by jumping on top of the piano or over a microphone stand, and flirting with violin players as though no one was watching. Kevin (the one with the sideburns) was the workhorse, rarely grabbing the attention but jamming away on guitar continuously and seeming to have the most fun. Nick is clearly the most serious musician, alternately taking on the piano, drums, guitar, and vocals. (When singing, he is wont to squint his eyes, look overly passionate, and get John Mayer face).
The Bros rolled through half a dozen fast and midtempo songs -- I Am What I Am, Poison Ivy, Play My Music (No, I don't have their albums! I Googled the lyrics, OK?) -- before getting into the heartbreakers. Joe said he could see people in Peter Pan and Tinkerbell costumes before he busted into the sappy "Fly With Me." Then, Nick rose up out of the center of the stage playing a white piano for the song "Black Keys." Every girl on the floor waved a paper heart and the flashbulbs never stopped.
Homeboy worked it. Taking himself very seriously, coming off breathy and oratorial, like a cross between Billy Joel and Brack Obama, he told a poetic story. He said that, when he was diagnosed with diabetes, he went to the doctor (tinkles piano keys) and asked "Am I gonna die?" (keys tinkle) "She looked at me with tears in her eyes" (tinkle tinkle) "and she said.... 'No'" (girls scream). He went on: "I made a commitment to myself to never, ever let this slow me down. As the years went by -- four, to be exact" (so, this started when he was 12?) " -- I've seen the progression." Then he spoke faster, bragging about his two Rolling Stone covers, world tours, and gobs of money, before segueing into another song. Note: during a close up of his hands, I thought I saw a ring on his ring finger! Does this mean he's taken?! Nooooooo! Oh, maybe that was his purity ring.
By mid-show, Joe warmed up and got everybody clapping. They did a song from Camp Rock and some other piano song. Then the boys went off stage, and the Jumbotron lit up with... a BAYER aspirin commercial?! Seriously?! In the middle of a concert? Could the audience not have two hours without a marketing message? That's just wrong. (Although, I suppose you could argue the concert it self was a two-hour marketing message.)
Knowing exactly where his paychecks come from, Joe said, "I'd like to see all the parents in the crowd. Show your kids that you've still got it" and then launched into "Sweet Caroline." Although the tune has unfortunately been hijacked by frat boys at cheesy piano bars, it was musically the simplest, and therefore best for showing off Joe's competent vocals. On the next few songs, the boys introduced their band, Nick did a drum solo, and Joe and Kevin floated over the crowd on a crane lift squirting super soakers.
Just when the energy was dipping, the boys disappeared from the stage, a screen dropped down, and drummers came out silhouetted and with snare drums, like in a marching band. Then, a chick rose up from the center stage in a black dress, belting -- and I mean belting -- a tune I recognized from the radio. OMG, it was Jordin Sparks, singing "Battlefield." (Nick Jonas was in the background, handling the drums.) She stomped around the stage, threw her head back, and unleashed power and attitude. Girl keeps that up, she could take on Beyonce.
Immediately after that came another theatrical moment, when Kevin Jonas, usually the shyest of the trio, stepped alone into the spotlight in a trenchcoat and carrying an umbrella. A soft jazz pumped through the speakers. He walked to a side stage and snapped his fingers. Fake rain poured from the rafters. And then: the distinctive opening notes of "Love Bug" -- a jaunty little mostly-acoustic number that is perhaps the cutest song ever. In an adorable and heartwarming moment, the whole audience sang together a cappella -- until Kevin switched from acoustic to electric guitar and the band launched into the last refrain. Guitars wailed, rain poured down, and a happy energy warmed up the cavernous concrete room as every person in the sold-out crowd seemed to be on their feet, just ... enjoying themselves.
The JoBros wrapped things up with obligatory versions of their rock hits "S.O.S." and "Burnin' Up" before all of the band members and opening acts came on stage, and they bowed together. Although my jaded heart hates to admit it, I got a warm fuzzy feeling inside, and I thought maybe the future's not so bad for kids today. I wondered how different my life would have turned out if I'd idolized good-natured, clean-cut boys instead of the ones who trashed hotel rooms and shot up heroin. Damn you, Tommy Lee!
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Personal Bias: I think Joe's the hottest!
Random Detail: My brain seems to have wiped out all memories of Ian MacKaye, Adbusters magazine, and notions against some thing called "selling out." Soon as I have a cute kid, I am totally pimping him out to Disney.