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Maroon 5: They Certainly Were Loved

By Dave McKenna
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, April 18, 2005; Page C05

Maroon 5 might someday be done in by a sophomore slump or the curse that comes with winning the Grammy Award for best new artist (Starland Vocal Band, Milli Vanilli, Evanescence). But the budding pop-soul superstars weren't dwelling on future obstacles Saturday at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

"This is the biggest show we've ever done," said singer, lead guitarist and bandleader Adam Levine to the near-capacity crowd, with apparent sincerity and wonderment.

Maroon 5's Adam Levine, shown in Las Vegas in 2004, played an almost too effortless guitar Saturday. (Ethan Miller -- Reuters)

Levine has reason to mistrust the successes that have come his quintet's way of late. "Songs About Jane," the record that brought them the Grammy, was actually released in 2002, and that collection remains the only full-length CD in the Maroons' discography. But it has now sold more than 3 million copies -- quite an accomplishment in this file-sharing age -- and the band is still cranking out smash singles.

The hits aren't accidents. The chorus of "She Will Be Loved" is as catchy as pop radio gets. "This Love" will have rush hour commuters tapping their steering wheels for a generation. But the band's live show suffers from weaknesses its recordings don't.

Levine's appearance, for one. He suffers from Justin Timberlake Syndrome -- he looks too boring to front a R&B outfit. Wearing a black oxford shirt and with his hair in a businessman's cut, he looked more like a law student than a pop star. The visual presentation only enhances the whiff of artifice in the Maroon 5 sound. And his squeaky falsetto -- which blends Stevie Wonder and Mike Tyson -- wasn't strong enough to be heard whenever the fans sang along (as on "This Love" and "Harder to Breathe") or the band cranked up ("Must Get Out"). His guitar skills are obvious -- he wailed like a heavy-metalist on "Shiver" -- but the effortlessness with which he played sapped the life out of his licks.

The mostly young, female crowd seemed incredibly happy just to be in the same Zip code as Levine and the boys. During a long run-through of the ballad "Secret," the girls squealed at nearly as high a frequency as Levine when he sang "I want you so bad!" During a long fadeout, Levine threw several bars of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" into the mix for no apparent reason. And when Levine introduced new material unfamiliar to the flock -- including "Can't Stop Thinking About You" and "Recent Years" -- the fans talked with each other rather than dance or even pay attention.

The show ended bizarrely. Regular drummer Ryan Dusick, who has had chronic shoulder problems and otherwise sat out the show, came onstage to sing lead on a cover of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell." Was that a signal that the Maroons don't think the good times will keep rolling?

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