"Give the people what they want" is a time-honored show-business slogan, and it certainly held true as the Jonas Brothers played to 18,500 screaming, screeching, squealing fans in Rupp Arena on Sunday night.
The teen heartthrobs who have benefited tremendously from the patronage of Disney brought a tightly scripted production worthy of the Magic Kingdom to town with smoke, mirrors, lifts, lasers and — on the lower-tech end — a trampoline.
It is a testament to the quickly evolving nature of teen pop culture that the Jonas Brothers were in Lexington less than two years ago as the fledgling openers for then-pop princess Miley Cyrus, who was touring as herself and her Disney Channel alter ego, Hannah Montana. Now they are on their second headlining tour, with an ambitious setup highlighted by a stage that reportedly ran 144 feet across the Rupp Arena floor.
It's a demanding playground that would take some youthful stamina to cover. That's something the JoBros have. They also have instrumental and songwriting chops, and they brought along a crack 10-piece band to help them play. Highlights of the evening were when that band spread the stage, pumping out hits Play My Music and Much Better and a rollicking mom-and-dad sing-along of Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline. Other highlights included Nick Jonas playing solo piano on Black Keys and talking about his battle with Type A diabetes.
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It was a thoroughly professional, excruciatingly choreographed show for a band that was just establishing itself a few years ago.
Another testament to how much things have changed is that the first opening act, Honor Society, is the first group signed to the Jonas Brothers' own label. Honor Society is a quartet of skilled musicians who made the most of their opportunity on the huge stage, attacking it with boundless energy. All they need is a few strong songs and a sustained popular taste and they could headline in a few years.
South Korean imports The Wonder Girls could have accomplished a lot more by singing another song instead of teaching the audience the dance to their first single, Nobody But You.
The undisputed champion of the under card, though, was Jordin Sparks, the former American Idol champ, who was much more impressive at Rupp than she ever was on the show. She worked all ends of the Jonas' long stage, drawing the crowd into sublime sing-alongs of Tattoo and Air. Sparks was backed by a fun, edgy band that gave her a lot to work with.
Interestingly, she saved her big, current hit, Battlefield, for the Jonas' set in a clever pairing with Jonas' song about tempestuous love, World War III. That pairing gave the end of the show another shot of energy.
What JoBros' set lacked was much room for spontaneity. They have played essentially the same set all summer. And the glossy production really didn't seem to allow for much deviation from the script.
The band's core audience certainly doesn't seem to care. The JoBros came, they rocked, and they gave the fans memories that will last for decades. But in those ensuing decades, many of those fans will come to appreciate less-scripted shows that give you not only what you want, but what you didn't know you wanted.
The bigger question is, will the Jonas Brothers still be the band they're listening to?