Music Review: The Jonas Brothers, Phoning It In at Verizon

The brothers went through the motions (and that's saying something) at Verizon Center.
The brothers went through the motions (and that's saying something) at Verizon Center. (By Michael Temchine For The Washington Post)
By David Malitz
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A year is a long time in the Land of Tween Idols. Last August the Jonas Brothers came to D.C. as the single hottest musical act in the country. Joe, Kevin and Nick packed 25,000-capacity Nissan Pavilion, the trio's album "A Little Bit Longer" had just moved more than half a million copies in its first week, and the brothers spent their pre-concert hours touring the White House and presiding over the unveiling of their wax figures before squealing fans at Madame Tussauds.

Fast-forward almost 12 months. There was another sold-out concert -- this time at the slightly cozier Verizon Center -- but there were also chinks in the armor. Or at least creases in the Jonas clothing line. The new CD, "Lines, Vines and Trying Times," sold less than half as many copies as its predecessor in its opening week, the band's 3-D movie failed to meet modest expectations, and instead of hanging at the White House, this year's pre-show activity was a charity softball game in Virginia. (The Obama girls were in the house Monday night, to be fair.) "Burnin' Up"? More like Coolin' Down.

There was still a bit of heat -- and, Lord knows, no shortage of eardrum-shattering shrieks from young female fans -- at Verizon Center on Monday night. But amid all the screams, camera flashes and $10 glow sticks, one couldn't help but notice that the brothers seemed . . . weary.

And who can blame them? It's been a near-constant grind for five years as the brothers slowly worked their way to the pinnacle of the pop music world -- continual touring, an album-a-year pace, endless promotional appearances and everything else that goes along with being a key cog in the Disney empire. Now, as the band begins its descent from the throne, it all seems to be taking its toll.

Save a handful of Kevin Jonas twirls, hardly any youthful exuberance came from the stage. And the JoBros need an abundance of that, because it's not as if they can make up for a lack of it with musical virtuosity or spontaneity. The brothers exist in a world where every move is scripted, so to say they were going through the motions is hardly stinging criticism. But in the past, it was the way they sprinted through those motions that made it work; Monday night it was more of a casual jog. When Joe Jonas shouted "Let's get this party started!" early in the performance, that might have merited four or five exclamation points a year ago. This time a simple period might have sufficed.

Songs such as "Poison Ivy" and "BB Good," enhanced by a sizable backing band that included string and horn sections, were still irresistible slices of buoyant power pop, while "Much Better" sounded like a lost Rick Astley cut. (In a good way.) But the slow-motion pace prevailed throughout the 90-minute show, from the performances to the way the brothers made their way across the stage.

The best hope of a continuing, thriving Jonas Empire would be to focus all energy on youngest brother Nick. From Michael Jackson to Justin Timberlake, there are plenty of examples of boy-band breakout stars. Nick is the group's primary songwriter, took turns on guitar, drums and piano and, for the middle school masses, is clearly the preferred member. But he's also the least charismatic Jonas. He dutifully did his solo stint at piano for the sugary-sweet ballad "A Little Bit Longer" but seemed most comfortable when he was behind the drum kit. He's still not quite ready for prime time, at least on his own.

Late in the set the brothers broke out "SOS" and "Burnin' Up," two of their best earworms. Those songs served as a reminder that on a purely musical level, the JoBros are a step above much of the disposable pop they are often lumped in with. For every cliche in those songs, there was an unarguably catchy chorus.

The kids are alright. They could just use a bit of a break.

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