Nick Jonas Covers Sam Smith, Nods to Tupac at Intimate Los Angeles Club Gig: Concert Review

Nick Jonas Concert Main - P 2014
Kyleen James

Nick Jonas Concert Main - P 2014

Unveiling new solo material in Silver Lake's tiny (for a Jonas) watering hole Satellite, baby brother impresses, but would be better served going easy on the ballads.

Nick Jonas' Wednesday night performance at the tiny Silver Lake club Satellite marked a milestone for the former bander. Now 22, it was his first show in support of new solo album, Nick Jonas, but also his first ever as a legal drinker. Brandishing a red plastic Solo cup (presumably filled with alcohol) in his hand, the singer cracked, “I did a show in Canada and [the drinking age there is] 19 and older; they were so much sloppier than you guys. You guys are so classy.” He took a sip and then added, “I won’t be offended if you guys go to the bar to get a few more drinks.”

The former Disney star is using his new album as an opportunity to reinvent himself as a musician, veering away from the candied pop he voiced with the Jonas Brothers and into soulful, blues-inspired fare that falls somewhere between Justin Timberlake and Sam Smith. The former, another Disney alum, is, of course, the easiest comparison — Jonas wields a Timberlake-like honeyed falsetto that slides over his band’s funk-laden instrumentals and he’s projecting a slick, sexy demeanor that doesn’t quite fit perfectly yet. At the Satellite, with the help of four musicians and two backup singers, Jonas embraced this older, more evolved persona, revealing highly likeable, charmingly catchy new songs that have very little in common with his earlier career.

Jonas opened with “Chains,” a new track, and led into “Take Over/Catch Me,” his collaboration with Demi Lovato. On “Numb,” the singer allowed his band to take the lead on a soulful electro breakdown, which aptly led into a crooning cover of Cee Lo Green’s “Crazy.” That wasn’t Jonas’s only reinterpretation of popular material throughout the evening — the musician used covers as a way to punctuate and highlight his own songs, connecting his new sex-themed single, “Wilderness,” with 2Pac’s “California Love,” and letting his emotional ballad “Nothing Would Be Better” slide into Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me.”

Giving the audience points of reference was a good move considering not all in attendance were yet familiar with his new material. To be sure, there's a lot to absorb and Jonas explained that his goal on the new album was to channel honesty, to grapple with subject matter that made him uncomfortable and which may make the fans similarly disquieted. “It comes from my heart,” he said. “And hopefully it speaks to you in some way.”

He offered little insight into the unreleased music, which is due out on Nov. 10, however, introducing new tune "Santa Barbara" with the preamble: “This is one of the first songs I wrote for this record. It’s about longing for somebody.”

Indeed, the sole complaint about his set was a heavy reliance on those ballads. Thankfully, it was contrasted with stomping, dance-ready hits like “Teacher,” a song that sounds like it deserves its own live horn section. The number featured a choreographed dance sequence from Jonas and his backup singer, which was presumably meant with a sense of irony as it looked like something created by Stephanie Tanner from Full House. Still, those moments of upbeat funk were memorable in how they were fueled with urgency and highlighted the sheer power of Jonas’s voice.

Seeing Jonas play such a small venue in Silver Lake also showcased his ease with transition. The crowd was primarily female and many women, clearly longtime fans, wiped tears from their eyes as he performed. But in the back of the venue, near the bar, Rancid singer Tim Armstrong watched the set with great interest. Punk frontman Armstrong, in fact, came backstage after the show and told Jonas he admired his voice. “He told me he’d like to work together on something,” Jonas later revealed to The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s crazy. I don’t know what he’s doing here.”

Jonas concluded the hour-plus performance with his rollicking single “Jealous,” a number that chronicles his fury as another man hit on his girlfriend. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he said as he prepared to leave the stage. “What a good way to kick off these L.A. shows.”

Continuing his club tour at the Troubadour the following night, before embarking on a U.S. trek, Jonas' next Los Angeles stop will be on Dec. 5 at a much larger venue — Staples Center — and it should be interesting to see how he adapts his live show for an arena stage. But based on last night’s performance, Jonas likely won’t have any trouble capturing the audience’s attention. Especially now that he can imbibe live.