It might be the perfect summer package – two longtime friends with similar backgrounds and current musical leanings sharing a band, a fan base and, occasionally, a stage.
Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas are both capable of filling the lower half of Philips Arena – she did it in 2014 (with Fifth Harmony and Little Mix opening) – but together, it’s a bit of Wonder Twins power.
At the Wednesday night kickoff of their “Honda Civic Tour: Future Now” run, which will keep them on the road into fall , the twosome, both 23, didn’t share the stage very often – one minor quibble with the setup.
But set lists can change, and this one undoubtedly will since the show featured a surprise appearance by rapper T.I. (as well as opening sets from Migos and Rich Homie Quan).
Lovato joked from the stage that she didn’t want to play Atlanta and not invite “the king” - who happens to be a partner in TIDAL, which happened to be streaming part of the concert .
But the novelty of seeing Jonas, with his jean jacket tied around his waist, prowling the stage with a subdued T.I. for “Whatever You Like,” and Lovato, in her sparkly jumpsuit, twirling under the rapper’s guidance for the throw-your-hands-up anthem, “Live Your Life,” was worth a detour.
Compared to some of their peers, Lovato and Jonas have crafted a relatively low-key production with the emphasis on the songs (imagine that!). Streams of light scanned the main stage, which led a few steps down to a smaller platform that enabled better fan engagement (i.e., the ability to touch Jonas’ knee when he squatted or Snapchat a close-up of Lovato’s well-toned physique).
A curved video screen ran the length of the stage – it expanded into the side sections later in the show – and primarily showed visuals that were often elementary in their obviousness (a gorgeous lion close-up during Lovato’s “Lionheart,” a pan of sizzling breakfast meat for Jonas’ “Bacon”).
The two-hour set opened with Jonas scampering onstage in sunglasses and various forms of artfully zippered denim, triumphantly raising the mic stand and delving into “Levels.”
The pair’s band – clad in white and half-hidden from view – ably unlocked the pulsing beat of “Champagne Problems” and the bass groove and synthesizer whistles of “Teacher.”
Jonas is having his Justin Timberlake moment, no doubt, right down to his smartly produced R&B-tinged pop, recently given a third serving on his new album, “Last Year Was Complicated.”
The former teen moppet has successfully transitioned into a chiseled hunk of testosterone, while his voice is as muscular as his biceps, but equally capable of scaling an impressive upper range.
He could, however, use a dose of Lovato’s impromptu candidness rather than relying on prosaic statements such as, “One day I woke up and realized that life is about the small moments…nights like this, tonight.”
After knitting together the like minded “Numb” and “Chains,” Jonas wordlessly exited the stage and within a minute, a black curtain dropped and Lovato rose behind it on a cube, striking a “Confident” pose in a black leather-and-lace bodysuit and thigh-high boots.
Crackling electric guitar buoyed “Heart Attack,” which she belted with the full power of her range, and rainbow-colored lights circled the arena during “Neon Lights.”
Lovato has always been forthright about her personal struggles and she endearingly noted that she was nervous while sitting backstage before the show. Her anxiety was heightened, she said, because she performed a new song, the ‘70s soul-inflected “Body Say.” While it was difficult to decipher Lovato’s singing over the song’s clicking backbeat, it contains a glossy chorus that fits snugly in her oeuvre.
Lovato quieted the arena when she sat on a stool on the smaller stage and unleashed an emotional pummeling with “Nightingale.” The aforementioned “Lionheart” was dedicated to her “little angel” (Maltipoo Buddy, tragically killed), while “Warrior” produced another round of vocal pyrotechnics.
After leading the requisite singalong of one of her strongest anthems, “Give Your Heart a Break,” Lovato was joined by Jonas, who played a white baby grand piano while she liberated her emotions on “Stone Cold.”
Jonas obviously wasn’t going anywhere before offering the see-sawing “Close” and his biggest hit, “Jealous,” which throbbed with an undercurrent of R&B.
Lovato, of course, needed to tie the final bow with “Cool for the Summer,” a fitting summation for a tour that will traverse the country during the stickiest months of the year.
There isn’t a ton of razzle dazzle on this “Future Now” outing – and that’s commendable. For a welcome change, two young singers have chosen to emphasize vocals instead of sensory overload, substance over inanity.
If this is the future, we’ll take it.
Set list for June 29, 2016 tour kickoff (excluding three songs with special Atlanta guest, T.I.)
Fix a Heart
Give Your Heart a Break
Cool for the Summer
PHOTOS FROM THE JUNE 29, 2016 PHILIPS ARENA CONCERT
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