[10 February 2009]
Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre opened in late 2007 to little fanfare from locals, mostly because its next-door neighbor, the colossal Staples Center, has kept the “stadium concert” genre covered for nearly a decade. Even less necessary is the blink-and-you-missed it Club Nokia, an oddly-shaped appendage with a bar as big as the stage (it’s an Los Angeles trademark: Clubs are little more than places to get your drink on). With a pit filled with folding chairs and a series of pillars blocking the bands in question from view, it’s not exactly a go-to destination for those seeking a life-altering musical experience.
Still, it’s certainly good for the legions of mainstream-loving conventionalists who filled it decently for Boyz II Men’s recent gig. It was an eclectic mix of typical greasy Hollywood wannabes and their makeup-spackled girlfriends, aging couples grasping at the last dregs of youth for dear life, and a handful of confused hipsters present only for the irony—all united by the tangible feeling in the air that it was only a matter of time before the make-outs and dry humping began. It was basically your run-of-the-mill pop show, but with more expensive parking.
In their opening set, Los Angeles-based duo Jupiter Rising carefully straddled the surprisingly fine line between cutting-edge and completely clichéd by crafting a slick live sound generally unheard of in the pop world. Beatmaster Spencer Nezey provided a hip-hop anchor for the trite vocal stylings of Jessie Payo, a charismatic sexpot who’s strong pipes lack the individuality that would pull her from the realm of back-up singer oblivion that she’s perilously close to falling into. Rihanna she’s not, but she could easily give the Pussycat Dolls a run for their money. New tracks like “Falling Away” and crowd-favorite “L.A. Girls” kept the notoriously jaded Los Angeles crowd buzzing, but it was the dangerously catchy “Electropop”, off their 2007 album of the same name, that brought the room to their feet. All in all, a solid set from a promising twosome makes the title of their forthcoming LP, The Quiet Hype that much more fitting—if only they can land on the original side of the tightrope rather than forgettable.
It was an odd but effective intro to Boyz II Men’s set, which fumbled through tunes off their last effort of new material (2006’s The Remedy) interspersed with just enough of the mid-nineties R&B slow jams that the packed house were probably there to hear. Though they’ve come a long way from the “Boyz” they once were, the now-trio had a tough time updating the uber-cheese that made them kings of the wedding reception circuit so long ago. “A” for effort, though: With superior vocals, intricate harmonies, and a decent amount of dancing, the Men gave the audience what they paid for with true-to-the-original interpretations of “End of the Road” and the now classic “I’ll Make Love to You”, although the selection of Motown standards from their Grammy-nominated disc, Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA, ran the risk of sounding more like a cruise ship cover band than the highest-selling R&B male vocal group of all time (according to the truly epic intro video). All the same, it’s nice to know that three guys who genuinely seem to enjoy putting on a good show can still kind of pack a house, novelty value aside.
Had the energy level been any higher, people might have actually started dancing—an L.A. miracle, indeed—but even without a party-vibe, everyone seemed to have a pretty good time. Club Nokia may have a tough time living up to its self-proclaimed position as “the perfect venue for emerging musical acts,” but it’s not completely a lost cause. Elitists and party-hoppers alike will keep their distance, but those in between will certainly find it to be a safe haven for some pricey Friday night indulgence, and for that purpose alone acts like Boyz II Men are ideal headliners, for sure. It’s a far cry from their glory days, but it’s better than the fate that awaits most pop-acts once the spotlight shuts off. The real question, however, is whether this spotlight will shine on Jupiter Rising, who are so close to deserving it, and whether or not they will keep it shining on them in the future.