Back in the day, when the Disney Channel churned out pop stars almost as quickly as Sweet Martha’s makes chocolate-chip cookies, I would have put money on Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato to make it to post-teen music stardom.
She had spunk onstage, he had winning musical instincts in the studio. Indeed, the two longtime friends have made the transition to young-adult pop stardom, enough to warrant a 42-concert tour that visited the State Fair grandstand on Wednesday.
Frankly, though neither measured up to the promise they showed on tour in the era of the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana.
Jonas, 23, took the stage first. The one-time boy-band heartthrob has videogenic muscles and a disarmingly cute smile. But onstage he moves like Jughead. Talk about a wooden presence.
With his voice trying to replicate the processed vocals of his recordings, it was hard to tell what his voice truly sounds like. Was he singing live? Was his voice manipulated by technology? Well, at least his falsetto was alluring.
Not that Jonas has much quality material to work with. He focused on tunes from his 2015 and 2016 solo albums, songs that talk about the essential topics of food (“Bacon”), booze (“Champagne Problems”) and, of course, love (take your pick). He may have had most of the young women in the crowd of 10,244 swooning, but lyrics like “I know we can get higher/ There’s levels to your love” (“Levels”) couldn’t even make the cut at Hallmark.
One of his stronger numbers was “Who I Am,” a funk-lite with a reggae undercurrent from his 2010 side project, Nick Jonas and the Administration, a band featuring such older Twin Cities musicians as Michael Bland and Tommy Barbarella. He explained that he’d be reconvening with the Administration after Lovato’s set at the Fine Line in downtown Minneapolis.
Apparently, that commitment prevented Jonas and Lovato from sharing the stage Wednesday — something they’d had done at other shows on the tour. They did share backup singers and used the same set, with only a moment’s pause between his exit and her entrance.
With the first verse and first chorus of her first song (“Confident”), Lovato, 24, made you forget Nick What’s His Name. Even though her 50-minute set seemed pro forma, she showed a sense of stage craft, a commitment to passion and a voice made for power ballads.
As she delivered one surging pop song after another, Lovato strutted with flair and belted with bravado. On the bombastic “Lionheart” and the hyperdramatic piano ballad “Stone Cold,” she ventured into Celine Dion territory.
Before her stratospheric ode to self-empowerment, “Skyscraper,” Lovato delivered her obligatory and heartfelt speech about mental illness. If you’re depressed, bullied or bipolar (her issue), she said, “the more people talk about it, the less taboo it’s going to be.”
Lovato’s message and music connected, but there was nothing magical about the evening. Not the way it was in the Disney music heyday when Lovato opened for the Jonas Brothers and thousands of young girls got introduced to the excitement of pop concerts.
Opening the show was Mike Posner, a hit songwriter (“Sugar” for Maroon 5, “Boyfriend” for Justin Bieber) and the voice behind two triumphs of his own, 2010’s “Cooler Than Me” and last year’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza.”
The 28-year-old Detroiter showed how to engage a crowd that doesn’t know who you are. He offered energy, enthusiasm and resourcefulness, whether it was running into the audience or posting a backdrop that announced “The Artist Currently Playing Is Named Mike Posner.”