The Jonas Brothers -- and everyone they employ -- can rest easy: Recent rumors regarding the death of Jonasmania have been greatly exaggerated.
On Friday night at Staples Center, in the first of three weekend shows there, the Jonases demonstrated that when it comes to America's boy bands, nobody inspires more devotion, triggers more flashbulbs or elicits more ear-destroying shrieks. (Trust me -- I'm still recovering.)
It's been a year of chattering-class speculation for Kevin, Joe and Nick, whose once-mighty commercial prowess has taken some dents of late. First, their hugely hyped 3-D concert film opened in February to less-than-spectacular numbers. Then, in June, their fourth studio album, "Lines, Vines and Trying Times," notched first-week sales that were about half of those for 2008's "A Little Bit Longer."
Of course, as Nick pointed out at Staples during a rambling monologue about how he hasn't let diabetes slow him down, "Vines" still delivered the band's second No. 1 debut in less than a year. In the last two months, Nick added, they'd also met President Obama and appeared for the second time on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Nick's rundown of the band's recent accomplishments was the only sign Friday that the Jonas Brothers have taken up a defensive position. ("I encourage you all to press on during hard times," he offered presidentially.) The rest of the band's 100-minute set felt like an exercise of power long entrenched.
Spread over three interconnected stages spanning the length of the venue's floor, the production flexed all manner of arena-show flash: For a folky reading of "Gotta Find You," from last year's hit movie musical "Camp Rock," the brothers and two violinists rode a hydraulic platform several stories into the air. During "Lovebug," a simulated rain shower spelled out the song's lyrics in water. Near the end of a medley of tunes from "JONAS," the band's new Disney Channel series, Joe and Kevin sprayed one section of the audience with high-powered foam guns from atop a sort of revolving cherry picker.
It was almost enough to entertain the thousands of dads waiting to lead their families in a pre-encore parking-lot dash.
As on the Jonas Brothers' records, the music hopscotched across genres, moving through Coldplay-style piano balladry ("Fly With Me"), blue-eyed funk-rock ("World War III") and fuzz-guitar power pop ("SOS") with the help of a 10-piece band that provided as much instrumental detail as it did crowd-battling volume.
Though older Jonas hits such as "Year 3000" and "That's Just the Way We Roll" drew huge cheers, they sounded surprisingly lightweight compared to more recent material, such as "Burnin' Up" and "Much Better," both of which draw unlikely inspiration from the likes of Huey Lewis and Hall & Oates. At one point, the Jonases played a rousing rendition of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" that seemed to reveal the vision of pop profundity that dances in these young songwriters' heads.
Near the end of the show, "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks (who performed a competent but somewhat perfunctory five-song set before the Jonases took the stage) joined the brothers for an appealingly bombastic version of her current hit, "Battlefield," complete with an intro of military drums.
Though the headliners probably didn't intend it, there seemed to be some kind of message buried in that song's love-as-war metaphor: We may have experienced some losses, the Jonas Brothers were admitting, but our victory is assured.