Music Reviews

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Staples Center, Los Angeles
Thursday, Nov. 8


For a band whose members grew up in an affluent Los Angeles area and probably attended a lot of concerts as kids, Maroon 5 appears to have learned the wrong lessons about arena rock.

The group's 75-minute show at Staples Center before a near-capacity hometown audience was forced and stiff. Lanky singer-guitarist Adam Levine had to cajole fans into singing along and later to pull out their cell phones and wave them.

To its credit, Maroon 5 is a sheepish radio programmer's dream, playing tepid funky pop derivative of much richer soul sounds from previous decades, combined with the most wretched excesses of bland '80s corporate rock. With a rhythmic bottom for a dance crowd and lovey-dovey or I'm-so-hurt lyrics for the pop people, it's added up to hit after hit for the band from its smash albums "Songs About Jane" and this year's "It Won't Be Soon Before Long."

However, the many sound-alike songs filled with fanning guitar and hiccupping beats revealed formula over real vision. Levine's thin, nasal tenor, with shifts into falsetto is post-boy band swoon crooning for women in their 20s and 30s, who appeared to make up a large part of the audience, though it also looked like a big date night for couples as well.

Too often, the band attempted extended versions of those hits, which led to bland blare over focus and choppy stop-starts, especially during "Wake Up Call," while the moody "Secret" shifted into a lift from Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," more of an emotional button-pushing move than finding a connection between the two songs.

The influences were sometimes shameless: Stevie Wonder could sue for defamation of style over the group's blaring treatment of its own "Sunday Morning," while the Police-meets-U2 knockoff "Not Falling Apart" found Levine teaching the audience the woah-oh coda; sorry guy, they'd all just sing back to Bono without any need for instruction.

The set-closing "This Love" was kept tight, still one of the group's strongest songs, but an encore kicked off by a wretched, meaningless drum solo from Matt Flynn -- joined by Levine standing behind a smaller kit up front -- was the worst of all the arena rock cliches. The ballad "She Will be Loved" followed by an appropriate "Sweetest Goodbye" made for a much sweeter finish.

Rather than really work the few genuine grooves it has, Maroon 5 so wants to rock, but it's not a rock band. The boys should talk to their second-billed act, the Hives. The Swedish combo packed more fun powder keg riffing and real rock 'n' roll energy full of gusto and gumption into their half-hour onstage than Maroon 5 did in its entire show.

Hives singer Howlin' Pelle Almqvist still came on like a strutting son-of-Jagger, jumping into the photographers pit and winning over the crowd with self-effacing humor as the band cranked out compact cluster bombs from its new "The Black and White Album" as well as its great garage rock slice of snotty defiance "Hate to Say I Told You So."

The night's opener was longtime L.A. cult band and Maroon 5 pals Phantom Planet, best known for the semi-hit "California," the theme song from Fox's "The O.C."
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