Before he played drums in the insanely popular pop-rock band 5 Seconds of Summer, Ashton Irwin had a different job in his hometown of Sydney, Australia.
“I worked at a KFC,” he said Saturday night from the stage at the Forum in Inglewood. “I could take all of you home and make you chicken.”
Most boy bands seem to emerge fully formed out of a record label’s cheekbone foundry, and 5 Seconds of Summer does have some of that classic pop-group appeal: tight harmonies, good chemistry and fans with partisan crushes on each member of the band. But 5 Seconds of Summer scuffs all that up with a snotty mall-punk attitude, one that’s familiar to any teenager who’s ever worked a crummy fast-food job.
At the quartet’s sold-out show Saturday (the first of two at the Forum), band members added just enough edge to their set while still hitting the boy-crazy buttons of their young audience. The concert turned out to be more of an actual rock show than most at the Forum probably expected.
5 Seconds of Summer may never escape the shadow of One Direction. As an Anglophone unisex band that plays earnest, upbeat pop-rock, the comparison is easy, and One Direction took 5SOS out on tour as an opener. But 5SOS hearkens back to older ideas about making a boy band: Give its members instruments, and pitch them as an actual band.
The sound is a throwback to late-'90s Warped Tour pop punk, a surprisingly durable genre that counts as classic rock to some tweens. 5SOS had the look down pat at the Forum: Guitarist Michael Clifford dyed his hair fluorescent red, singer Luke Hemmings had a lip ring, and all the jeans seemed to have been sliced at the knees in the same stylist session. When the band covered Green Day’s 2004 single “American Idiot,” it was in the spirit of acknowledging a musical influence (which probably made a few once-cool dads in the audience feel their age).
Punk has been prefabricated since Malcolm McLaren invented the Sex Pistols, and it’s no sacrilege for a boy band to act a little punk, as 5SOS did on its self-titled debut LP this year. But the line between ramshackle fun and respectable execution is tricky. For the first half hour of its set, the band looked to be having some pretty serious monitor problems onstage. The stacked harmonies and punchy choruses on “End Up Here” and “Voodoo Doll” felt a little creaky and uncertain for it.
Not that it mattered to screaming fans having a first taste of a band being naughty and spontaneous. At one set break, 5SOS brought out its producer, the pop-punk cool dad emeritus John Feldmann, to play drums on a trashy metal-core breakdown that sounded like something a band would play at the Smell.
Band members all hover between 18 and 20, the age where talent coheres and tastes get more adventurous. They’re maybe just one passed-along Buzzcocks record away from being onto something.
But they were even better when they dropped the whole sneery punk thing and played like a straight-up pop band. “Beside You” and “Amnesia” were unselfconscious, winning ballads that weren’t entirely on brand but had the makings of a longer, more resonant career. Irwin is a gifted and Muppet-y percussionist, and Clifford had a sweaty, dazed appeal when he sang lead. He should do it more often.
5SOS is a long way from the Sydney KFC, and it doesn’t need to keep up that rebellious-but-nice punk-guy thing to separate itself from its peers. Just write and play good songs, and the fry cooks back home will follow.
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