Three days ago I took two girls, ages ten and nine, to their first concert, and that trip to Hartford brought back a lot of memories of my own concert-going experiences despite the obvious differences between a pop show sponsored by Disney and, say, the Who on one of their many farewell tours. This was definitely the first concert I’ve seen in which some of the crowd of were carried out on people’s shoulders because they were sleepy and cranky — the show ran way past bedtime. And while there were more high school-aged girls and college-aged women than I would have thought, this was definitely a Disney family production.
When I was a kid and I went to Disney World for the first time, I think I might have cried a little on the way home through the Florida marshland because I recognized that at Disney, everything was really clean and everyone was really friendly and happy and while you were there it seemed that nothing bad could ever happen to you. (I was a child — I had no idea about the more unsavory sides of the Disney empire until later). The Jonas Brothers 2010 Tour with Demi Lovato and Friends from Camp Rock 2 also presents a vision of a world in which the kids, and everyone else, are all right. Everything from the pre-show music on the monitors to the dances to the changes of set and clothing (even the pats on the back between musicians?) seemed expertly choreographed and all the performers and audience members seemed really, really happy to be there ( the performers said they were “glad to meet” us and thanked us many, many times for making their dreams come true and reminding us that ours could, too. There are worse themes for a concert tour, believe me.) Many girls in the audience rocked Joe’s trademark banadana around the head and black hornrimmed glasses and sported homemade t-shirts, some announcing themselves as “Mrs. Joe” or “Mrs. Nick” Jonas (I guess since there already is a real Mrs. Kevin Jonas, they chose to respect that, though there was one group of three girls, each in a white bridal veil. More on the marginalization of the oldest JoBro in a moment). Even before the show started, there were gleeful cheers as images of the boys appeared on the screens behind and beside the stage, especially those photos that featured them as youngsters in soccer uniforms or footie pajamas.
The show itself could be described as a three-hour advertisement for Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, which I found more wearisome than the younger viewers around me. The “friends from Camp Rock” seemed likable and talented, including Allison Stoner( the voice of Isabella on Phineas and Ferb) , who introduced the show, unveiled her song soon to be released on Radio Disney, and,with the dancers and other singers from the upcoming TV movie, led a contest for four lucky audience members to come up and learn some of the moves from one of CR2’s dances (two winners got to appear later onstage with the Jonas Brothers, which I imagine was pretty wicked’ awesome for them). On a more potentially disturbing note, the sequel TV movie features a rival camp, Camp Star, presented as clearly the enemy of the good and talented kids at Camp Rock, and the group with whom we are not supposed to identify — and Camp Star seems to feature hiphop sounds and more performers of color, though they do not appear in this photo.
The Camp Rock crew performed some of the numbers from both TV movies and made sure that no one forgot when CR2 was premiering. Then Demi Lovato, star of both the CRs and Disney Channel’s Sonny with a Chance, came out and sang her lungs out. I liked her performance more than Ihad expected, with her girl power-themed songs and Ann Wilsonesque delivery. (I have read elsewhere on the internet that it was the JoBros who helped her to make her own songs more pop-y and Disney-friendly, as the originals, according to Lovato, were too “dark” and “edgy”. Today, according to the folks at Disney and Team Jonas, the four remain friends despite Demi’s breakup with Joe, and especially since the whole relationship may have been Disney-orchestrated anyway, there were no fraught moments on the stage that night, none of the meaningful looks and curled lips of a late 70s Fleetwood Mac tour). Lovato’s lyrics promised she would to stay “just me” and not get ground up by the “LaLaLand Machine” — laudable and far more empowering to her audience than anything Miley is doing right now, even if one could say that in signing with the Mouse Corp Demi has already sold her soul. (But that’s the view of a cynical adult who once also thought she herself would never compromise anything, ever. ) I liked Demi’s spirit that night, though I’d always found her screen persona annoying, with her grin that could be more charitably seen as the goofy unself-consciousness of a happy girlbut was something I usually saw as forced and frightening.
At 9:45 the Brothers finally came on with “Feelin’ Alive” — a song a friend and fellow blogger just pronounced “hideous” — and throughout the show there were even more fireworks and fog machines and explosions than in the previous segments. If they hadn’t been orchestrated so well it all would have been a trifle too Spinal Tap. With the first thunderous beats and the appearance of the JB logo on the screen that would open to reveal the long awaited stars, my young cohorts were off their feet, clapping and watching in awe throughout. While I missed the spontaneity and improvisation that makes a live show so exciting, this particularly orchestrated live show did not disappoint anyone in the crowd (and I remind myself that a reviewer of Bowie’s performance on the Let’s Dance tour complained that he was the only rock and roll performer who wears a watch onstage and sticks to the carefully rehearsed moves. And I loved that show.)
Highlights included a funky fun “Year 3000”, a soulful acoustic solo by Nick of “Who I Am” with a background “Subterranean Homesick Blues”-style video depicting diverse people holding up cards that said “Who I Am”, then flipping the cards to reveal, um, who they are (for instance, a shot of dog tags on a human chest widened to reveal a woman in camo fatigues whose card flipped over to declare her a “mother”. Nick was a “brother” and “diabetic” — both drew great cheers. ) Later, “LA Baby” wowed the crowd and a 40s-style “Lovebug” featuring dancers and the boys in white jackets closed the part of the show before the pre- planned encore, in which “SOS” and “Burning Up” rocked. There. I said it. They rocked.
Since I mentioned Dylan, however obliquely, in his limited introductions to a few songs, Nick’s voice sounded more twang-y and pseudoSouthern than usual, like Dylan’s put-on hillbilly voice. Nick was born in Texas, I guess, but he does not sound like this on their Disney channel show. But no matter — he writes a good pop song and is obviously very talented.
While I attended the show with a confirmed “Joenut”, I was a little disppointed in his performancem compared to the one I’d seen in a film of a previous tour (the concert film that did not match the world’s enthusiasm for Hannah Montana in 3D) in which he copped some moves from a young Mick Jagger. But to be fair, before coming to Hartford that day they had performed on Good Morning America for a screaming Central Park crowd and George Stephanopoulos, and the girls and I weren’t exactly sitting on the edge of the stage, close enough to really scrutinize the action — and given the staggering amount of security guys surrounding the stage, we would not have gotten much closerthan we were if we had tried. Besides, my cohorts were content to just soak it all in from a distance. If either of them were actually met with a real, live Jonas , they would instantly melt into the floor. (Lest you think them preternaturally bashful, I hear the first time the boys played the Obama White House, the President had a $10 bet with his oldest daughter that when she actually met the JoBros, she wouldn’t speak to them either). I remain pro-Joe, because I like any guy goofy enough to post a video of himself, in a leotard, recreating Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” AND who dresses as the Fruit of the Loom grape on occasion.
Kevin appears on the tour’sbig screens to the side of the stage only if he is standing next to another brother — even when he does a pretty cool spinning thing while playing. I saw no one in a “Kevin” tshirt, though I saw one girl in the bathroom in a “Frankie” tshirt, he being the “bonus Jonas” little brother. I wonder if this bothers Kevin, or if he is just happy to be there. He seems like an unassuming guy and for some reason I like that he practiced the contests diligently in his basement to appear on Minute to Win It and raise money for their charity.
Or maybe Kevin is just, as the only married Jonas, quietly enjoying the nuptial privileges the others are patiently waiting for. (Despite the famous purity rings the unmarried brothers wear, Team Jonas issued a warning on August 11th that they would take legal action against a blogger who alleges that Joe and Demi remain friends with benefits. )
My young guests thoroughly enjoyed their first concert experience, as I did mine, different as the two shows were. Now, my adult friends who knew this mom when she used to rock and roll can make fun of me and the Jonas boys for their pop-y hits all they want — and some of them do. And everyone else (including the South Park guys and Russell Brand at an MTV awards show) can deride the boys for their music and their promises to God and themselves (to paraphrase Joe). But the Hartford show on August 13 was a good one, especially when all of the “And what’s on September third?” “Camp Rock 2!” “And when is it on?” “September third” cheerleading was over. And as a mom of a girl just deciding it might be nice to in some vague way be near a “cute boy” like Joe Jonas, I would rather she latch on to Team Jonas than crushing on the middle-aged heroin addicts with skull rings I found appealing in my teens. Maybe I take my mothering cues from Marge Simpson, who supports Lisa’s interest in Nonthreatening Boys magazine. Or maybe cool, as we thought of it back in our day, has left some folks a little cold. Maybe cool just hasn’t taken us anywhere many of us would want to be.
Earlier this summer, the JoBros returned to the White House to participate in a lifetime achievement tribute to Paul McCartney. Back in the 70s, McCartney, of course, asked the world if we had had “enough of silly love songs.” As a grownup and a mom who has long put away her copy of Lou Reed’s Berlin album, once listened to obsessively and depressively, I would have to answer Sir Paul’s question “what’s wrong with” adding more silly love songs to the world’s collective chorus with “Nothing at all, really. Nothing at all.”