BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Yep, it was cold.
Cold as in 27 degrees by the time Jason Derulo glided onstage just past 10 p.m. as the third and final act of the opening night of the AT&T Playoff Playlist Live! event at Centennial Olympic Park.
Cold as in much of the crowd – which looked about the size of a sellout at the Tabernacle – dispersed after Charlie Puth’s brief, yet fulfilling set. Those who remained for Derulo pulled down their knit ski caps and zipped up their jackets as the R&B smoothie directed his sock-less feet across the stage for the opening “Wiggle,” wondering how anyone could be that dedicated to fashion over warmth.
The concerts are being held in conjunction with Monday’s College Football National Championship at the nearby Mercedes-Benz Stadium; all of the acts who performed Saturday night – Lizzo rounded out the bill – asked the obligatory “who are you rooting for” question (the Georgia Dawgs narrowly edged the Alabama Crimson Tide), which, combined with the gorgeous ESPN structure assembled for VIPs at stage right, kept the focus on football even when music was in the spotlight.
Taking the stage first, around 6:15 p.m., was the Minneapolis hip-hop-pop powerhouse, Lizzo.
Backed by a DJ and two dancers, the sassy Lizzo commanded the stage in a fringed leotard and glitter-doused sneakers.
“I’m here to warm things up!” she proclaimed in between her opening “Fitness” and the equally sassy “Phone.”
Lizzo, who played Music Midtown last fall, worked her curves throughout her 45-minute set, high stepping and bursting into jumping jacks. Her songs possess an appealing tick-tock element, and her voice has the capacity to soar when not being buried underneath electronic bass.
She cleverly referenced Rick James’ “Super Freak” on “En Love,” and turned the joyful anthem “Worship” into a funk workout that made you ponder just how good it would sound with live brass.
Lizzo is also a delightful personality as well as a multi-dimensional musical performer, and showcased her affinity for old-school soul on the closing “Good as Hell.”
Slightly more than an hour after Lizzo exited – the lengthy wait in between acts was a source of grumbling throughout the crowd – Puth’s band, including a bassist who stood in the background blowing on his hands and grinning with a “can you believe we have to play in this weather?” look on his face, took the stage.
The endearingly shaggy Puth bounded out and beelined for his keyboard for his 2016 hit with Selena Gomez, “We Don’t Talk Anymore.”
Clad in ripped jeans, a Puff Daddy tour T-shirt and (as he noted) his sister’s Burberry scarf, Puth immediately praised the crowd – which at this point contained a lot of screaming young women – for their resiliency.
“You all are absolute troupers,” he said. “Much respect and love to you all.”
While fans who had waited hours in the finger-numbing temps to see the songwriter-turned-performer-turned-heartthrob wunderkind might have been miffed at his mere 30-minute set, Puth at least stocked it with the greatest moments of his young career.
The new(ish) “How Long” offered a pulsing chorus, flecks of soul-pop and Puth’s lovely falsetto, while his 2015 album track “Suffer” unfolded as an expressive lament.
Puth was constantly in motion when stationed behind his keyboard, rocking and tapping his feet. He also made good use of the massive catwalk extending from the stage as he edged closer to fans.
The ubiquitous “One Call Away” spurred an obvious singalong, but it was the song that Puth said changed his life – his massive hit with Wiz Khalifa, “See You Again” – that prompted robust participation from the audience, even as Puth’s voice rang strong and clear in the frigid air.
By the time Derulo took the stage – after a not-entirely-necessary hype session from his DJ Jae Murphy – the energy on the field briefly sagged.
But the polished and professional singer-dancer immediately refreshed the room with his dazzling dance moves and supple voice.
With his four backup dancers, Derulo shimmied his shoulders and gracefully spun down the catwalk for “If I’m Lucky” and “Trumpets,” the latter underscoring his creamy upper register (also, the live trumpet was a nice touch, even though it was buried in the mix).
Along with early hits “Ridin’ Solo” and the breezy “It Girl,” Derulo performed his current hit – with French Montana – “Tip Toe.”
Throughout his set, plumes of pyro shot upward and lasers and banks of lights bowed across the stage, all lending his set a vibe that veered between elegance and, at least with the lascivious “Swalla,” plenty of verve.
The AT&T Playoff Playlist Live! concerts continue Sunday with The Chainsmokers, Bebe Rexha and Spencer Ludwig. Gates open at 4 p.m.