BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
(This review was originally posted on Feb. 22, 2014)
About two-thirds through her show, Demi Lovato decided to get nostalgic.
The singer-songwriter-musician directed fans’ eyes to the oval video screen stationed behind the stage as she good-naturedly joked during the quick-edits of her Disney days and touring-with-Jonas-Brothers days.
As the footage whizzed by, Lovato bopped through the cutesy pop song, “Don’t Forget.”
But then, wryly noting she’s now the 21-year-old Demi, her four-piece band segued into “Got Dynamite.” Maybe it didn’t quite make sense that she was pointing out her maturity while ripping through a sultry rocker from her 2009 album, “Here We Go Again,” but the point was made – it’s been a long, strange trip for Lovato.
Lovato’s Friday night stop at Philips Arena – set up for about 10-11,000 and all of it filled – showcased a young artist with an old soul. She’s a tough chick who isn’t afraid to let fans see behind the wall. That’s probably one reason Simon Cowell tapped her as a judge on “The X-Factor” for a couple of seasons.
Lovato has publicly endured personal issues – drug and alcohol addiction, bulimia, depression – and seems genuine in her attempts to share the story behind her struggles. Her ability to overcome her demons is admirable, and a worthy lesson for her impressionable fan base.
Though Lovato didn’t talk too much during her 90-minute show, instead efficiently trotting through an 18-song set list, when she did speak, it mattered.
“It’s important for me to use my voice not just to sing,” she said, seated behind a piano. “(I want to) take the stigma out of talking about these things.”
Lovato used the moment as an introduction to “Warrior,” a song that might be clichéd with its message of strength and survival, but nonetheless sends an effective message.
With so many stars of Lovato’s generation concerned more with costume changes and choreography, it’s refreshing to see a young woman who has found a way to balance the necessities of pop stardom (the stage, while comparatively small, still boasted lasers and, of course, neon, during “Neon Lights”) with slightly deeper musicianship than found with most of her peers.
Lovato dances like an average person with rhythm rather than a finely-tuned pop princess, and while her pop-rock hits such as “Heart Attack” and “Give Your Heart a Break” aren’t revolutionary, she does have an ear for pleasantly old-fashioned melodies, such as those in “Here We Go Again” and the achingly vulnerable “Nightingale.”
You could say that Lovato, with her pink-tinted hair and spandex pants, is a bit of a mixture of Kelly Clarkson and Pat Benatar (shout out to all of the moms there with their daughters), a singer who can play guitar and rein in her vocals on a ballad such as “Catch Me” as easily as she can rattle the rafters with her booming rock voice on “Really Don’t Care.”
Of course, you can take the girl out of Disney, but…a highlight of the set was Lovato’s version of “Let it Go,” the Oscar-nominated song from the animated film, “Frozen.” Lovato dutifully praised Idina Menzel, who sings the song in the movie and will perform it at the Oscars March 2.
Though Lovato’s version, which appears on the “Frozen” soundtrack, was given a heavier pulse, the song still swelled and soared like all good Disney ballads do, and gave Lovato a chance to sing lyrics such as, “The fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.”
She might not be the most perfect girl in the room, but she’s probably one of the most genuine.
Lovato’s appearance came about two hours after the show started with American “X-Factor” favorite, the girl group Fifth Harmony, and British “X-Factor” winners (from 2011) Little Mix. In between the acts, the affable Collins Key, the 19-year-old magician from last season’s “America’s Got Talent,” mesmerized the predominantly teenage girl crowd with his inventive tricks and laid-back coolness.
Little Mix – who will appear at Northpoint Mall at noon Saturday – was especially impressive. Though they initially seemed like a new generation of Spice Girls (another Cowell gold mine) with workout-ready pop songs such as “Move” and “Salute,” they proved their vocal prowess on a medley of ‘90s R&B hits (TLC’s “No Scrubs,” Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious” and En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go”), an interesting cover of Cameo’s “Word Up” and their own snappy “How Ya Doin’?”, performed a capella.
Maybe next time the girls come Stateside, we can hear them perform with a live band instead of with pre-recorded tracks, a device that makes even the most extraordinary singers sound a bit canned.