After the Jonas Brothers’ packed performance at the Frank Erwin Center on Saturday night, two girls walked through the parking lot with a sign that said "Ten Year Challenge: JB Concert." On the sign was a photo of them ten years earlier at a different but genetically similar show.
If you’re immersed in or even regularly adjacent to contemporary youth culture, it’s easy to see how the JoBros essentially are a legacy act, having peaked in popularity in the late 2000s. But it’s still hard to register that a decade of culture has passed in what feels like the blink of an eye, especially when you observe the legions of sign-holding superfans— and when you find yourself utterly tickled, entertained and impressed by every minute of the brothers’ expertly modulated live performance.
The themes of the evening were clear, simple and perfect from the moment Nick, Joe and Kevin descended from the Erwin Center ceiling on a platform while playing "Rollercoaster": "growing up," "party time" and "love" (with a brief holiday interlude in which the brothers put on Santa hats and performed the truly infectious bop "Like It’s Christmas" amid a sprinkling of fake snow).
One of the greatest parts about arena concerts, festival headlining sets and the like is that you never know where the artists will come from and how they will disappear. The sets are chockablock with trap doors and barricaded walkways and suspension cables. The JoBros made use of all of these, bounding around the arena, sinking out of view, rising back up again, rising higher — and higher — on a circular platform right in the middle of the crowd while they performed some of their slower, more heartfelt tracks, like "Comeback" and "When You Look Me In the Eyes." Both of those are slightly more modern-country than I had remembered, in a very good way.
I had not realized just how many big pop hits came from these three brothers, but songs like the explosively perfect "S.O.S." and the genuinely sexy "Jealous" were excellent reminders. It was a pure, unencumbered delight to watch the Jonases strut across the stage and own the arena while performing them. Side note: I don’t know if Joe Jonas actually can play instruments, offstage, but I will forever hold in my heart the deepest respect for his choice to "nah" out of being an instrument-playing member of the band and remain perhaps the most popular brother. This is an energy of which we could all use more.
During short interludes and costume changes, weirdly intense videos played on the big screen, showing each bro quietly, inspirationally interacting with a young boy. Perhaps because my brain is comprised of Claritin-D and cynicism, it took me far too long to realize that they were playing out encounters with their younger selves. Once that clicked, I promptly cried. (Don’t tell my 10-year-old companion, I’m trying to save face.) These guys were little boys when they started this journey. Now they are grown, married, accomplished, handsome and likely wondering what the hell even happened these last two decades and how, even after a painful yearslong split, they got so lucky in the end.
That sentiment yanked at my heartstrings even more strongly when, toward the end of the show, the guys took some time to remember the very beginnings: the first shows (Joe wants to especially thank "all four of you" who were at that Six Flags show that one time, you know who you are), the original fans (now young adults) who made their parents drive hours for meet-and-greets and CD releases.
For all those fans, the bros put together something special — a medley of some of their best songs from the early era. The arena, and I cannot stress this enough, exploded in joy as the brothers jammed out to pop-punkish tracks including "Mandy," "Paranoid" and "World War III," all of which held up extremely well. Meanwhile, the big screen cut between current shots of the concert and tons of past footage of Nick, Joe and Kevin as young kids, bowling, brushing their teeth, being swallowed by swarms of fans, giggling and horsing around, making music and growing up. It’s one of the best "behind the scenes" montages I’ve seen at a concert, a clear labor of love and warm nostalgia.
I’d be remiss not to mention the giant inflatable arm-wavy tube guys that popped out during one track, or the pyrotechnics that accompanied encore track "Burnin’ Up," or that yes, Joe’s wife, Sophie Turner (Sansa on "Game of Thrones"), was in the audience. But the biggest highlights for me were the moments where the passing of time was felt heavily. And yet, these sweet-faced guys made it feel like something to celebrate.