Nickelodeon's All That Music & More Festival, which came to Nissan Pavilion Saturday night, offered a Lollapalooza-like experience for tykes and teens, only instead of piercing booths there were do-it-yourself murals, a rock-climbing wall and an audition space where kids could try out for various Nickelodeon programs. Still, the main attraction was the music.
Boy bands dominated the lineup, suggesting that young girls just can't get enough of buff teenage males who are emotionally articulate and like to dance. Sets by newcomers No Authority and EYC weren't as distinctive as their multiracial makeup, which is a boy-band rarity. The evening's headliner was 98 Degrees, a Midwestern quartet that looks like four members of the high school football squad who decided to form a band. They smirked, blushed and grinned as they competently crooned "Because of You," "The Hardest Thing," "I Do (Cherish You)" and other hits--tunes that simply aren't cut as sharp as those of boy-band front-runners the Backstreet Boys. To pad their performance, they turned to such covers as Prince's "1999" and Offspring's "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)," an acid and subtly racist critique of white people who ape black culture that 98 Degrees turned into a chest-thumping anthem of blue-eyed soul.
The festival got most interesting when the largely female audience was addressed by Tatyana Ali and Monica. Ali, a Harvard University student and former cast member of "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," charmed the crowd as she confidently sang of getting intimate "mentally" and of a boyfriend who loves her for who she is, "not what he sees." Also speaking to the everyday concerns of the audience was Monica, who addressed the pull between pleasure and principle when she sang "I wanna get down but not the first night." Possessing Whitney Houston's sassy command of the stage, the singer brought an uncommon toughness and resolve to hits including "For You I Will" and the near tear-jerker "Angel of Mine."
Unlike Houston, she doesn't belt out artificial sentiment as if it were gospel truth, maintaining a cool distance instead, which places her in the tradition of pop greats Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield. Despite a set marred by muddy arrangements, Monica distinguished herself as the evening's most skilled and assured performer.