Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 12, 2010
POP CULTURE: Concert Review: Maroon 5 at Jones Beach
My wife and I had an early celebration of our 15th wedding anniversary yesterday, spending the day at Jones Beach capped by seeing Maroon 5 in concert at Jones Beach Theater. My review:
Maroon 5 is the best pop band that still gets played on the radio today, which says maybe more about the state of pop bands today, but they are a good band. It may not have seemed it at the time, but the 1990s and the very early 2000s were actually a great time for pop bands - among others, the Gin Blossoms, Fastball, the Counting Crows, the Spin Doctors, Matchbox 20, the Foo Fighters (I count them as a pop band), Sugar Ray, 3 Doors Down, even jam bands like Blues Traveler and the Dave Mathews Band that had their pop moments. Few of those bands are still on the pop music scene, although some of them are still recording in one form or another (I got the Gin Blossoms' last album and will probably eventually buy the one they're putting out next month; Dave Mathews is obviously still a big star).
Maroon 5 is basically a 21st century answer to The Cars, a pop music machine that manages to turn out consistently good stuff even if a lot of it sounds alike. Granted, they'd be a better band if frontman Adam Levine sounded more like Ric Ocasik or - better yet - Michael Hutchence of INXS, but Levine's voice does have its own character, and the softness of his vocals undoubtedly helps the band continue to get airplay in today's increasingly feminized pop radio market. Their first two albums, 2003's Songs About Jane and 2007's It Won't Be Soon Before Long, were both about 8-10 deep in quality songs, which is a sign of people who know what they're doing. I also liked Gotten, Levine's song on Slash's new album, although it's not one of the very best songs on that album.
Of all the places I've seen concerts (full list here), the Nikon Theater at Jones Beach is unquestionably the best, a gorgeous outdoor waterfront amphitheater with good acoustics (this helped make up for the fact that the tickets cost as much as the last two shows we saw - the Saw Doctors and Kelly Clarkson - combined, but we had seats this time instead of general admission). This was the second show we've seen there, the first being Harry Connick about 15 years ago. The crowd was pretty varied - a lot of girls in their teens and twenties, but also a fair number of gray-haired types (my wife thought this was unusual, but hey, Billy Joel is 60 now and Ringo Starr is 70; there's a whole generation in there) and even, bizarrely, some families with small children. The show appeared to be sold out or very close to it.
I finally gave in this time and joined my wife in wearing earplugs to the concert, which turned out to be a great decision. We knew the show would be really loud when we heard the band doing sound check from the beach parking lot in the afternoon, and while the earplugs were uncomfortable and made conversation difficult, they really didn't interfere with hearing the show (even the banter from the stage) with crystal clarity, yet unlike other recent shows I didn't have ringing in my ears and difficulty hearing for days afterwards. Recommended.
The Opening Acts
While it was still daylight, the show started with an unbilled opening act named VV Brown, a woman with an English accent in a skintight catsuit. She was energetic and had some decent pop-rock songs (she also did a passable cover of Coldplay's Viva La Vida), but it was pretty clear that most of the audience had no idea who she was, an especially serious hazard for an opening act when you don't tell people in advance she'll be performing. I was wondering if maybe she was some sort of house band, playing to a half-empty theater.
Next up was Owl City, which is sort of a one-man recording artist (a guy named Adam Young who started making music in his parents' basement in Minnesota and, well, looks the part) under the name of a band. Owl City has to be the wierdest act I have ever seen live. His band opened with (counting him) three keyboardists, a drummer, a violinist and a cellist, although he and one of the other keyboardists then switched to holding guitars (there was, however, little in the way of audible guitar-playing sounds). Impossibly skinny, with a scraggly beard and dressed like Han Solo from the original Star Wars, Young seemed to be carrying on an extended Emo Phillips imitation with his helium voice, spastic dance moves, precious lyrics and - near as I could tell - performing his entire 10-song set with his eyes closed. (Quote from the stage between songs: "Hey, there are a lot of pretty girls here! I get really nervous around pretty girls.") He did have kind of a cool light show. The crowd roared its approval when he finally got to Fireflies, his big pop-radio hit, which I don't like but at least it was finally something familiar, and to Young's credit he sounded live pretty much like he does on record. I wouldn't rank Owl City with the most excruciating opening acts I've seen (those would be the 1-2 punch of Primus and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy opening for U2 in 1992), but it was definitely the most surreal.
The Main Event
Maroon 5 went on around 9:30 and played a little under 2 hours, cruising through all their singles as well as a number of songs from Songs About Jane as well as a cover of an Alicia Keys song I'd never heard (that was the only cover, although in the middle of Secret, Levine broke into a few verses of What's Love Got To Do With It) and, if I recall correctly, three songs from their upcoming album, including their current single Misery (which they opened the show with) and a song called Stutter that I liked - here's a live version from last week:
(It's a sign of a good live act that they can sell a song the crowd hasn't heard).
My wife and I were happy that they played our favorite song by the band (Won't Go Home Without You, which has an opening and rhythm reminiscent of Fastball's pop classic The Way) but each missed one song from the last album - I'd have liked to hear Little of Your Time, she wanted to hear Goodnight Goodnight. The show closed with a two-song encore of Makes Me Wonder and Sunday Morning. The band was obviously eager to show off their rock chops on a couple of songs (Harder to Breathe, Wake Up Call and The Sun all featured more guitar theatrics and a heavier rhythm section than you might have expected from the record), but balanced with the ballads and the more bouncy pop tunes, for which the band lowered a giant disco ball (the stage setting was otherwise a large curtain painted to look like a street in the band's native Los Angeles).
Levine's voice was mostly as on the records. He's kind of a wiseass and a little full of himself (the ladies love him, and he knows it, basking in the oohs and ahs when he tossed his shirt into the crowd to play the rest of his set in a tank top), but funny at times and not without some self-deprecating humor (after the Alicia Keys cover: "this next song is one of ours, if you can't tell because I sometimes sound like a girl.") He did one routine about handing out Maroon 5 condoms that drew some dirty looks from the crowd, and when he split the audience into a sing-along for She Will Be Loved, had a funny riff about the reaction of men in the crowd to being asked to sing (including the guys who were "like dude, I'm here because my girlfriend likes you, let's just get this show moving along.").
As I've noted before, I've mostly seen really good concerts, so I can't rank these guys with the top tier of shows I've seen, but it was a good concert and well worth seeing if you like Maroon 5's music.