Big Time Rush at Target Center, 8/10/13
Big Time Rush. Left to right: Logan Henderson, Carlos Pena Jr., James Maslow, Kendall Schmidt
Photo by Tony Nelson
Big Time Rush
Target Center, Minneapolis
Saturday, August 10, 2013
Big Time Rush are local boys made good. Sort of. After they told not quite a packed house, but still several thousand -- mostly Rushers under the age of 12 and their parents with a few teens mixed in -- that they'd "fallen in love with y'all once more," the band gave Logan "Mitchell" the honor of picking the lucky lady they'll serenade with an acoustic version of "Worldwide."
This is their signature ballad about that very special girl they're missin' while on tour. He finds a sign that reads "Logan, pick this Jersey Girl." Ashley, a 20-something super-fan who has seen their Summer Break tour 12 times, is brought onstage. After joking around with her about her lack of shoes, they all sit down, and the band thanks their fans for a laundry list of their successes -- three albums and a soundtrack, 61 songs, 74 TV episodes, four tours. Before heading into the song, one of the boys sums it all up: "For four boys from Minnesota, this is something special." None of them are actually from Minnesota, but the crowd still goes wild, again.
Big Time Rush is both a boy band and a Nickelodeon sitcom once described by the Boston Globe as a G-rated Entourage. They're a group of four hockey-playing friends from the North Star State who made it big in Hollywood, according to their back story on TV. In reality, the four members of BTR were brought together by a nationwide casting call. Kendall Schmidt, the leader of the group, hails from Kansas; James Maslow, the dreamy one, from California; Logan Henderson, the brainy one, from Texas; and Carlos Pena Jr., the goofy one, from Florida. All except for Logan had a long line of acting credits to their name, including Frasier, ER and Les Miserables on Broadway.
This isn't exactly a new model. The Monkees were created in almost exactly the same way, and show creator Scott Fellows names them as a major inspiration. Their two biggest contemporaries in the current crop of boy bands, the Wanted and One Direction, may not have their own shows, but they too were brought together by design: the Wanted by a casting call, One Direction by Simon Cowell.
There are two ways of looking at this. The first is cynical -- the show was created to sell records that wouldn't otherwise have existed to kids who wouldn't otherwise have heard them, bypassing the radio. Chart figures bear this out: while their highest charting radio single barely cracked the 70s, two of their albums, including this year's 24/Seven, debuted in the top five.
Photo by Tony Nelson
Rushers enjoying the show
Photo by Tony Nelson
At the same time, the idea of a band having a zany sitcom all their own is an oddly innocent throwback, and it's fun for the kids. Besides, seeing Nickelodeon bands through an especially critical lens may be a case of having our blinders on to the realities of commercial pop music. Stadium shows don't spring up out of the ground, and as a general rule Top 40 artists come from the coordinated efforts of huge media conglomerates as much as any particular individual talent.
Though there was some faltering along the way, at its best Big Time Rush can hang with their more traditional pop contemporaries. They entered at the drop of a massive Big Time Rush banner shielding their set, which was fairly sparse, including a riser, five light screens, and a DJ booth. Oh, and trampolines. Their opening song was the dubstep-infused summer jam "Windows Down," which led to a rare imagery of clean-cut kids jumping around on trampolines to wobbling bass throbs. More of their movement focused on working the crowd -- pointing out fans, shouting out specific sections -- than on coordinated dancing. This diminished their stage presence at times, though their pop-locking during the main drop approached Backstreet Boys levels.
Their sound was much less polished than it is on record at the start of the night. The harmonies were often a note or two off, and several lines got lost in the shuffle or weren't fully enunciated. Most of the first part of the set was like this: high energy, but showing a lack of tightness. Still, the boys know how to work a room, so if this slowed down the show's momentum in any real way with their fans it was lost on me.
After running through their new album title track "24/Seven," complete with the requisite images of clocks on the video screen, and "Music Sounds Better With U," Carlos tried to lead the crowd in some call-and-response. "When I say, 'Y'all ready to party,' you say 'Oh yeah!'" It worked once, but every subsequent time it deteriorated into the usual excited screams. They were consistently able to get the crowd on their feet and jumping, even though it was way past a lot of their bedtimes. The show went until 11:30, and the family next to me left in the middle of the set because their kids were falling asleep.
A costume change from the harder-edged outfits of the first half to summery button-down shirts for the acoustic section followed. Though there was a necessary drop in the crowd's energy, some of the night's best performances came here. "Crazy for You" kicked it off. "I made this for our fans, because we're so crazy for you," Kendall said, and it sounded like he really meant it.
Photo by Tony Nelson
At this point, I realized what had been hidden by the manic energy and heavy beats of the first half of the show -- these guys can seriously sing. Their harmonies were consistently bright and clean, and the solos were impressively strong, specifically James's.
After concluding their serenade with Ashley, which ended with a chastely sweet kiss on the cheek, the boys brought up their entire crew for a tour photo, since it was their last night performing with Victoria Justice. "Give it up for the crew," Kendall said, "and make sure you get extra loud for the folks who are still working and can't get up here." It was one of those moments the contributed to my overall impression of BTR: they're what my mother would call "very nice young men." This was further confirmed by their shout-out to parents, beginning with "Where my dads at? Shout-out to my dad-Rushers! Scream like you're in 300!"
The one element of the classic boy band archetype they're missing is the bad boy, and their songs have very little in the way of innuendo. Sure, you could read something into the chorus of "Like Nobody's Around," a song about a dance party, but do you really want to?
That sweetness has tradeoffs. Pop lyrics have no duty to originality, but BTR often reaches new levels of cliché. How are they going to party? All night, or like a rockstar, or maybe like it's the end of the world. "Boyfriend," their biggest single and the opener to the final section of their show, may be Exhibit A. The bridge contains this quatrain: "If you tell me where I'm waiting here/Everyday like Slumdog Millionaire/Bigger than a Twilight love affair/I'll be here, girl I swear." It's like it was written using a pop-by-numbers Mad Lib with two blanks for youthful cultural references.
Not that anyone noticed -- for this number, BTR went out into the crowd and mingled with their fans, giving high fives and telling an assortment of girls that "all I really want to be is your boyfriend." It wasn't quite Beatlemania, but there were huge smiles all around and a few instances of happy tears.
Photo by Tony Nelson
Feeding off that energy, the final segment of the show featured stronger vocals and more impressive visual and dance elements than the madcap first half, seeming more than ever like a true stadium show. There were two firings of the confetti gun, and a silly center stage dance between Kendall and a banana-suited Victoria Justice. After their penultimate song, "Elevate," as BTR literally basked in the adoration on stage and controlled the crowd's excitement like a maestro, Kendall asked "Did you guys have fun tonight?" I covered my ears in anticipation of the answer. And that's all that really matters, right?
I should throw in a shout-out to Victoria Justice. I missed most of her set, but what I caught rocked pretty hard, and she has the stage presence of a real pro. I caught a few folks throwing up devil horns and at least one of the Rushers I talked to was mostly there for her. Girl's got spunk.
Personal Bias: My little brother (and to a certain extent, my mom) is a big fan of Nickelodeon music so I had a passing familiarity with their work before seeing the show.
Random Detail: I asked a group of three pre-tweens near me who their favorite band member was. Two told me it was "the one who's always combing his hair," which I later confirmed was James. The other was adamant Carlos stan and was having none of that.
Notebook Dump: Why did they tell the crowd to turn up before "Elevate?" It's a pretty out of place phrase for them and this crowd couldn't turn up anymore if it tried.
Music Sounds Better With U
Song for You
Crazy for You
Like Nobody's Around
Na Na Na
Time of Our Lives
Til I Forget About You
Big Time Rush (theme)/City is Ours
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