By Michael Corcoran
Editor’s note: This article was originally published September 19, 2013
It was not a big night for songwriting, but Adam Levine is not on a TV show called "The Pen" and Kelly Clarkson didn’t win the maiden "American Idol" with an acoustic guitar in her lap. Levine’s Maroon 5 and Clarkson gave a sold out crowd of 14,000 its money’s worth- and not much else- with a combined three hours of soaring vocals and mega-thumping rhythms on non-stop hit songs and well-placed covers. The vocals were so BIG Wednesday night at the Austin 360 Amphitheater, they might’ve drowned out F1 racing in the Circuit of the Americas compound.
Yeah, I know. He’s the guy who made the rest of us with tattoos a little less cool, but you have to give Levine some humility points for touring with the powerhouse show-stealer Clarkson as the opener. Not many big stars would follow a vocalist that makes their act sound like N STYNG, the Police as a boy band, in comparison.
Levine is going for that silky, soulful elastic thing, but if last night’s show was, oh, I don’t know, a televised singing contest, Clarkson would be going to Vegas with tears of joy and Levine would be a zombie in the green room with his hugging family. Clarkson’s chicken skin version of Aretha Franklin’s "I Never Loved a Man" was sheer magic, even if half of the teenaged and young adult crowd probably wondered if it was a new original. And I’m not sure 30 minutes was enough of a set break after "Since U Been Gone," Clarkson’s explosive set-destroyer.
About 15 years ago, it seemed that every new band not going into "modern rock" was doing its take on Stevie Wonder’s "Innervisions," but Maroon 5 is one of the only group of Wonder boys to survive, thanks to Levine’s hooks, looks and marketing savvy. Not many bands once in awe of Third Eye Blind are still packing them in. The tight Marooners (augmented live by keyboardist/vocalist PJ Morton and the Austin-based Grooveline Horns) got plenty of room to rock out on "Lucky Strike," with Levine kicking giant balls into the crowd, as well as "Wake Up Call" and the Prince cover "I Wanna Be Your Lover." But the star of the night was the sleek man o’ stubble, wearing a life-sized Fender necklace for much of the show. Levine was able to elevate vapid and derivative material, from the faux reggae set opener "One More Night" to the pre-encore set closer "Moves Like Jagger." As Levine moved like Keith Richards, blasts from a confetti cannon gave the crowd its Vince Young Rose Bowl moment.
Levine was a little distant, all business, but he did talk some about playing Stubb’s years ago and how it was gratifying for the band ("we’ve been doing this a long time") to still have so many fans. It was a touching moment among bandmates together for almost two decades, then Levine introduced "Won’t Go Home Without You" as a song "from my second album." At least we’re clear about who’s the draw, though Levine is less a rock star than a gym rat who can sing.
The first encore number "Payphone" pretty much spelled out the Maroon appeal: They’re a really solid rock band with a pop singer who can auto-tune himself. It’s pablum done to perfection and if you weren’t humming and bobbing last night, you were nowhere near Elroy.