It is not typically a reviewer’s custom to compare performers or their performances with one another. We rate each show against its potential: did this entertain me, and was it worth my time and money?
But given the proximity of teen pop concerts this last week at First Niagara Center, which brought Justin Bieber’s Purpose Tour and all of its fireworks last Tuesday, and Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato’s Future Now Tour Sunday night, let’s compare for just a moment. Seems only appropriate.
Bieber’s headlining show, as I wrote, was a feeble display of entertainment. His mostly mimed vocal performance was overshadowed by an impressive though wasteful stage production, and the kind of half-hearted hospitality you usually find at a roadside motel. He clearly didn’t want to be here, and frankly neither did anyone who’s ever gotten their money’s worth.
The major difference between Bieber and his would-be colleagues Jonas and Lovato—by demographics and genre alone—is the pair’s willingness to work hard for their ticket buyers. They are nowhere near Bieber’s star power—by wealth, for one thing—but where the YouTube discovery never really learned how to perform on a grown-up stage, they earned their keep more traditionally, through the ranks of the teenage pop machine.
This doesn’t mean they’re more talented, or worthier, or even nicer. But they sure do come across as the kind of self-possessed, confident, kind role models you’d want your kids screaming for.
This joint tour, sponsored and packaged by Honda Civic, is as poptastically bubble gum as popular music gets. (Do you know any 12-year-olds in the market for a sporty sedan? This is a marketing tour, pushing both cars and songs, make no mistake.) But where talent goes, Jonas and Lovato have plenty to go around and enough patience to share their stage.
Jonas opened the double bill with a string of synthy R&B pop singles off his new album, “Last Year Was Complicated” and its eponymous predecessor. His live band gave raw power to a likely track-supported performance. Their musicianship, and Jonas’s live vocals, were much appreciated, even if they should be a standard part of a live concert.
“Levels” and “Champagne Problems” have sincere funk and soul in their bones, and the suave Jonas can soar his falsetto as finely as he can bottom his bass. As one-third of a pseudo-Christian family boy band—remember the Jonas Brothers? The Jonai?—this wholesome young fellow has certainly grown up into a finely chiseled specimen of man.
That he kept all his clothes on Sunday night, and was otherwise a grateful and gracious host, thanking his band and fans, went a long way. This is how you can be both a pop act and a class act.
Lovato was his equal, and earned what sounded like even more applause from this largely female audience than Jonas. Her opening song, “Confident,” underlined her appeal in thick black eyeliner. Her music is just as sexy (or sexualized) but primarily about being true to one’s own goals and strength. A far cry from the ego parade on display last week.
Opening act Mike Posner did not align with his headliners in this regard, but he connected nonetheless.
Jonas and Lovato’s approach should not have felt like the exception; this kind of show should be the rule. This is not a criticism of elaborate stage productions, scores of dancers, or other expected accoutrement. Most of this modest show felt as tame as a classic rock concert circa 1990, and just as celebratory and spectacular. I think that’s a futuristic kind of tour and celebrity we can all get behind right now.