I have a pair of super-robust earplugs that have lived through hundreds of concerts with me. The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi and U2 in stadiums, Katy Perry, LMFAO and Springsteen in arenas.
But I think they melted a little bit at Tuesday’s sold-out One Direction concert.
Not because of the music or vocals, which were mixed admirably well for a teen group show. But the screaming. Oy, the screaming.
From the millisecond the house lights in Gwinnett Center Arena dropped and a video identifying the U.K. quintet, Teen Beat-style with their likes and hobbies adorning sun-kissed photos, through the guys’ every grin, wave, hair flip, wink or bounce, those high-pitched squeals that can only emanate from adrenalized teenage girls in the presence of their fantasy boyfriends ricocheted through the venue.
Every generation has its boy band(s). But these guys, solo-contestants-turned-fabricated-group on the 2010 edition of Britain’s “The X-Factor” and brilliantly realized by the genius who is Simon Cowell, have reinvigorated a concept that had fizzled out for a few years. Even more amazing? They didn’t even win that season. They came in third.
But at Tuesday’s show, as Niall Horan (the blond one), Zayn Malik (the swarthy one), Harry Styles (the Mick Jagger one), Louis Tomlinson (the swoopy hair one) and Liam Payne (the shy one) burst onto the stage in a blur of Converse, skinny jeans and artfully tousled hair, girls sobbed in between wheezing out the chorus of “Na Na Na” – a song better than its elementary title might suggest.
In fact, for a group skyrocketing thanks to an easily dismissed category of music, One Direction (or, 1D as the kids call them) is perfectly enjoyable fluff.
They purposely don’t have choreographed dance routines, they wear whatever style suits each of them and with their rakish charm, suave accents and simple pop anthems, what more do they need to win these hearts?
If we’re going to nitpick, they could try something a little more original with their banter (“You’re the loudest we’ve heard on this tour so far!” Tomlinson, the band’s elder statesman at 20, told the squealing mass…as if he didn’t tell the crowd in Oakland, Calif., the same thing last week?). And since they don’t have pre-determined moves or, aside from Irishman Horan’s occasional guitar-strumming, play instruments on stage, they often wind up standing around awkwardly, as if loitering with their pals in the parking lot of Publix.
But their brand of practiced casualness usually worked, especially when they goofed around with each other and their four-piece band (yes, which actually played – and quite well).
With only one album to draw from, the guys had to pad the proceedings with snippets of cover songs including The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” and the Zutons’ “Valerie.” But performing them against a sparse acoustic backdrop allowed their vocals a rare chance to be heard over the caterwauling and showcased Malik’s crooning strength and Styles’ pretty tones.
They also detoured from music for a bit to interact with the crowd, 21st century-style, by highlighting some tweets sent in by audience members on the video screen behind the stage. It was a cute idea (“What are your best jokes?” “What celebrity were you most nervous to meet?”) that went on too long, with the exception of a quick verse of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” in honor of Monday’s third anniversary of his death.
The guys rolled through the title track of their debut record, which has sold about 800,000 copies in the U.S. since its release in March, and the fizzy synth bauble “Everything About You” before pulling out a sweetened version of “Use Somebody.” Those cranky Kings of Leon must be thrilled.
As a snowy substance fluttered onto those seated on the floor, 1D led the crowd in a singalong of their current hit, the insanely catchy “One Thing” and the earworm “What Makes You Beautiful,” a kind of sequel to Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.”
Throughout the 90-minute show, the fivesome repeatedly thanked the crowd and clearly enjoyed every second of the mayhem, as well they should. Teen heartthrob-dom is fleeting, but if you’re confident in their shelf life, feel free to buy tickets for their next Atlanta appearance at Philips Arena almost exactly a year from now. You read that correctly. That would be a show in June 2013 already on sale.
But you know what? It would actually be cool if One Direction is still relevant by then, because every generation should have something to scream about.
(For more photos from last night’s show, go here.)
(And where do you think the guys dined while they were in town?)
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene