Transitioning from a teen idol into a respected artist is one of the hardest tricks in music to pull off, as singer Joe Jonas reminded us in a checkered concert Saturday night at the Granada Theater in Dallas.
The former Jonas Brother and Westlake resident came back to town fronting DNCE (pronounced "D-N-C-E"), a new quartet that plays -- what else? -- dance music. Impeccably tight with talent to burn, the band had the capacity crowd swaying and pogo dancing from the opening chords of "Naked" all the way through the set-closing ear worm "Cake by the Ocean."
Jack Lawless, a onetime member of the Jonas Brothers touring band, led DNCE with kinetic drumming that was equal parts disco, metal and Manchester rave. Another JoBros vet, South Korean-born guitarist JinJoo Lee, upped the energy level with sharp, staccato picking. Cole Whittle, formerly of N.Y. garage rockers Semi Precious Weapons, anchored the quartet on bass and keyboard.
At their best, in "Toothbrush" and the Sly Stone-ish "DNCE," the group put a fresh spin on high-energy dance-rock from the '70s and '80s. The only weak link was the 27-year-old Jonas himself.
There was nothing remotely memorable about Jonas' singing voice -- a pleasant but antiseptic tenor which tended to wobble when it climbed to falsetto.
His vocal drawbacks were easy to overlook during the band's peppy original songs. But they were glaring during the covers, which included tepid versions of George Michael's "Freedom '90" and the Spice Girls' "Wannabe."
The biggest blunder came in covering David Bowie's "Let's Dance." Compared to the Thin White Duke's foghorn baritone, Jonas' voice was just plain thin and white.
Seven years after the Jonas Brothers' final studio album, the singer seemed stuck in the past at times. T-shirt guns, confetti bombs and stadium-size jets of steam all felt a bit much in the 1,000-capacity Granada. So did the grocery-cart full of women's underwear, a prop that did nothing to help Jonas' attempts to escape his fluffy heart-throb image.
The visual overload also couldn't mask Jonas' reticence as a front-man. He had plenty of energy as he frequently collapsed on the floor aside his band-mates. But he seemed strangely reluctant to grab the spotlight.
Between songs, Jonas resorted to uttering clichés like "So you guys came to have a good time, huh?"
Whittle, by contrast, was hard to take your eyes off of. A maniacal figure with a flowing robe and asymmetrical mohawk, he constantly sliced the air with his bass guitar, kicked his right leg like a Rockette and then fell on his back and clapped his feet, all the while playing his instrument.
If the Red Hot Chili Peppers ever need to replace Flea, they know exactly where to look.