Demi Lovato at Xcel Energy Center, 3/18/14


Demi Lovato
with Little Mix and Fifth Harmony
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Disney has been the cultivator for many arena acts, from Justin Timberlake to Miley Cyrus to Britney Spears (Demi's former The X Factor co-judge), and now Demi Lovato. Lovato certainly has what her predecessors also offered: good looks, commercial appeal, and a good voice. It's just that Demi lacks the stage presence to carry on an arena show.

See Also: Slideshow: Demi Lovato at Xcel, 3/18/14

There were too many cringe-worthy moments in the evening -- from her chest-thumping to her leaning on her guitarist as he guitar-soloed his way through the bridge of "The Middle." Come on, Demi, show us a little more character. The reason why people enjoy live performances is they want to lose themselves for a few hours.

Perhaps it's not fair to compare Lovato to synth-pop band Future Islands, but in the group's recent performance on Letterman, the band delivered an unpolished, visceral act. When lead singer Samuel Herring pounded his chest, his performance was so extraordinarily expressive that it caused people to talk -- because it was so rare to see a man lose himself on stage like that. Maybe that's what Demi needs, to show a little bit more vulnerability and let loose. Stop playing it so safe.

From her stage outfits -- only two! -- to the stage layout, the evening had a played-out feeling to it, as if everything was recycled from another star's set. The lack of costume change was understandable because Lovato seems to want to be known for the music rather than her flashy show. The singer was decked out in all black, as were her backup singers and band, and hot pink hair that she used as an accessory when "headbanging" -- and I use that term loosely.

As if she isn't sure if she wants to be a rocker or a pop musician, Demi can be described as a mix of Katy Perry -- just not as fun -- and Paramore's Hayley Williams -- just not as cool. Her message is female empowerment, which is clear from her lyrics in "Fire Starter" and "Really Don't Care." Concerns for the evening began with the opening piece "Heart Attack," one of her bigger hits. Her songs are respectably passable, but barely entertaining enough to keep one's attention -- unless you were an impressionable young girl at her first concert.

The show was comparable to a sitcom that has the same plot as every other on television. Clichés were in abundance from the light rock/mediocre pop songs like "Made in the USA," which Demi dedicated to some fans that she had met earlier in the evening that served the country with military service, and "The Middle," where she grabbed some drum sticks and pounded out the beat a la Imagine Dragons.
Her ballads were syrupy sweet and a seemed a tad vacant, but she was able to show her other talents by grabbing a guitar at random times and sitting behind the piano for "Warrior." Before "Warrior," Lovato went into a little speech about how proud she was of all the strong women that were in the audience that night. She spoke about being in recovery from her eating disorder and addiction and self-harm, things that she said she understood weren't new, but she was glad to be open and honest about -- something she had felt was missing a while ago before she went into rehab. It was great message for the many young girls in the audience to hear and great that they had a role model to look up to. Hopefully Demi can look back on this in a few years and not let her past define her.
There were a few other highlights of the evening, I mean you don't get to play the Xcel if you were merely a regular performer. Her audience went nuts when she pulled out the popular "Let It Go" from Frozen and her latest single, the catchy "Neon Lights." Because of the young audience and curfew, the encore was relegated to two songs, another ballad "Skyscraper," in which Demi came back onstage in a black gown, and her breakthrough hit "Give Your Heart a Break."

Demi's strong personality and ability to overcome her recent personal struggles are what help her relate to her audience, and she knows that very well which has gained her a large following. Let's hope she can expand on that past her graduation from Disney.

Critic's bias: I've already ripped her show apart, but perhaps she would do better in a smaller venue. It's tough enough to connect with an audience in an arena setting, but to add in a trite production makes it a lot worse.

The crowd: Mainly young girls ranging from 6 to 20, some with their parents and some with their boyfriends.

Overheard in the crowd:
Girl one: "There's a lot of people here in neon."
Girl two: "It's called the 'Neon Lights Tour.'"

Random notebook dump: My sister fell asleep during the show.

Heart Attack
Remember December
Fire Starter
The Middle
Really Don't Care
Catch Me
Here We Go Again
Made in the USA
Two Pieces
Let It Go
Don't Forget
Got Dynamite
Neon Lights

Give Your Heart a Break

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