To take the true measure of One Direction, the British boy band in residence this week at the Rose Bowl, keep your eyes on the guys not singing at any given moment.
That’s where the telling action seemed to be Thursday night during the first of the group’s three concerts in Pasadena, whether it was Louis Tomlinson chucking a water bottle at his mates or Liam Payne modeling a pair of patterned boxer shorts thrown onstage by a fan.
And then there was the bit near the end of the show when Harry Styles, evidently famished after the evening’s performance, peeled and ate a banana as though he were alone in his kitchen instead of standing in a stadium filled with tens of thousands of shrieking girls. (The girls didn’t mind.)
Merry disrupters of established boy-band tradition, the young men of One Direction — Tomlinson, Payne, Styles, Zayn Malik and Niall Horan, assembled after each tried out on the 2010 U.K. edition of “The X Factor” — largely do away with the show-pony pageantry associated with their predecessors, from ‘NSync to New Kids on the Block, all the way back to the Beatles.
For One Direction, as for so many children of the YouTube age, public performance is not so easily distinguished from private behavior; the bedroom has become a stage and vice versa.
That mind-set is spreading: The opening act Thursday was 5 Seconds of Summer, the punky Australian quartet with a No. 1 album and an equally unimpressed manner.
Still, given the scale of the Rose Bowl, where One Direction landed after playing four nights last year at Staples Center, you might’ve expected the group to boost the intended wow factor.
Again and again, the members expressed their disbelief that they were playing the venue — and only weeks after Eminem and Rihanna had appeared there, Horan added. (He didn’t mention, though he seemed perhaps to want to, that Eminem and Rihanna played only two nights to their three.)
But although fireworks burst above the stage as the group made its entrance, Thursday’s show actually felt even more laid-back — and therefore more slyly confrontational — than the band’s Staples gigs: At one point a fan passed what appeared to be a hand-decorated pillow to Payne, who examined the item before showing it to Tomlinson with a gesture that seemed to say, “Fancy a nap?”
Of course, the secret behind One Direction’s apparent nonchalance — what made this stadium show feel thrillingly offhand rather than disappointingly so — is the fine-tuned precision with which the band presents it.
Addressing the crowd after the band sang its hit “Kiss You,” Payne said he hoped we’d enjoy “the next hour and 50 minutes or so” — right on the money, by my watch.
The songs too — from albums released like clockwork every November since 2011 — delivered carefully geared payloads: the synthetic Mumford & Sons stomp of “Story of My Life,” the creamy vocal harmonies in “You & I,” the exuberant pop-rock rush of “Best Song Ever,” which opens with a keyboard figure as close to the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” as the band’s lawyers would likely permit. (A fourth album, titled “Four,” is due Nov. 17.)
But it’s not like One Direction was making a big deal about, y’know, music.
Shortly before Thursday’s encore, Tomlinson took a minute to introduce the group’s four-piece backing band, and each player’s instrumental solo turned into an impromptu mini-cover of another artist’s song: Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar,” for instance, or “Lego House” by One Direction’s pal Ed Sheeran.
When the drummer revved up Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” Payne couldn’t help himself and began singing along, doing a decent impression of Thicke’s louche come-on. But then he seemed to forget the words. What to do?
“Blah blah blah,” he sang, without a trace of chagrin.