Kiss the Summer Hello kicked off summer with loud, confectionary spectacle.
Tween girls swayed in pastel Forever 21 frocks on the Canalside lawn, as a vendor balanced cotton candy over his head. While they screamed for heartthrob bands such as R5, reluctant mothers cupped their hands over their ears in a vain effort to block out the blaring bass.
The concert has become a rite of passage each summer, a place where both the crowd and the acts go to grow up. When one of the concert’s top sponsors is Owl Orthodontics, that tells you everything about its key demographic. Like most of their teen audience, the performers exist in that awkward stage somewhere between the Disney Channel and full maturity.
That can bode well for some artists, including Cody Simpson. The charming singer from Australia’s Gold Coast shed his pop persona to deliver a full-throttle rock set.
With his new album, Simpson has moved away from pop and toward a more beachy, Jason Mraz style. Though his short set included reggae beats, there was no shortage of rock. He let out a raspy howl on his cover of “99 Problems,” a bluesy prelude to his new song, “New Problems.”
R5, the quintet whose fame also came on the coattails of Disney, elicited some of the most high-pitched screams of the night. The band went beyond the normal audience pandering and showed their true Buffalove, announcing that singer Rocky Lynch got a tattoo of Canalside’s own Shark Girl.
Guitarist Riker Lynch, who scored more fans following his runner-up status on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” didn’t tango but spun his bleach-blond head around the stage like a whirling dervish.
Even in the midst of their adoring fans, R5 was striving for more. The band made an attempt at arena rock with a track off their new album. With Riker pulling power kicks and Ross Lynch delivering a soaring chorus, the band felt reminiscent of The Killers’ “Hot Fuss” era.
Jordin Sparks, a veteran artist by comparison, used Kiss the Summer Hello to launch her new sound. The American Idol winner jumped into her new rap, “It Ain’t You,” flanked by two backup dancers. The song throws shade at male rappers who diss women, taking particular aim at Chris Brown.
Giving plenty of attitude with every eyebrow raised and hip gyrated, Sparks made a clear departure from her Idol days. It proved disappointing though once she performed some of her earlier work, including her hit “No Air.” Sparks, who also was overwhelmed by the loud bass, at one point stopped singing altogether and talked with the audience. The crowd didn’t seem to mind that she had ditched her power ballads in favor of singing about Instagram.
The night’s long-awaited headliner, Flo Rida, had no trouble appealing to a mature audience. The Miami rapper cranked up the volume with “Good Feeling,” featuring Natalie La Rose and four dancers. Flo Rida epitomized hip hop decadence onstage, wearing diamond chains and not boots with fur, but silver-tipped shoes.
The crowd went wild as “In the Ayer” blared and the song culminated with Flo Rida soaking the front row in champagne. Near the end of the set, he brought an army of teenage girls onstage to dance to “Low.” Just as he was about to smack a certain derrière, though, he refrained, remembering his PG-13 audience.