You might not know who Big Time Rush is, but chances are your kids do. The group has sold 3.7 million singles worldwide since signing with Nickelodeon in 2009, and their television show of the same name is one of the channel's highest-rated series to date.
And tonight, they shook the rafters at the Marcus Amphitheater as they took the stage for the second concert of their Big Time Summer Tour (You see what they did with the name there? Clever!).
The boys – Kendall Schmidt, James Maslow, Carolos Pena Jr. and Logan Henderson – have also starred in five movies (all with the words "big" and "time" somewhere in the title) and their second album "Elevate" sold over 70,000 copies in its first week on the shelf last November. And they're all under the age of 23.
The boys have caught a lot of flak from Serious Music Lovers for their uber-commercial appeal and the fact that their music might be so catchy because it's co-written by talent that only Corporate America can finance. Nickelodeon employed hitmakers Kevin Rudolf, Emanuele Kiriakou and OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder to write and produce many of their tracks.
But BTR can't hear the haters, because their fans are screaming too loud.
Literally. Their fans scream really, really loud.
Big Time Rush started the show off with "Elevate," the title track for their new CD (I think that was the song. Did I mention the screaming?). A lighthearted video played before the band came out, depicting the boys of BTR running late to the show (spoiler alert: they make it in the end). Cue the fireworks, pyrotechnics and streamer cannons.
It was a powerfully theatrical beginning and they rode that wave the whole night.
"Milwaukee's our city tonight!" cried Pena as they began singing "City is Ours." They got to stretch their vocals a little on the more muted love song "No Idea" as well as during an a cappella version of Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend." During "If I Ruled the World" they slid down firemen's poles and bounced on a trampoline, deftly maneuvering the stage's different levels, making the set their own personal jungle gym.
Overall, the members of Big Time Rush have pleasant voices. But what they're best at is entertaining. They create a show, a circus. Their fans adore them, and they aren't shy in returning the love. Their unabashed affection for the people who clearly care so much about them is what impressed me most about Big Time Rush tonight.
At one point all four of the boys waded deep into the audience, to the ecstatic surprise of many sitting near the back of the amphitheater who got hugged, gladhanded or even kissed on the cheek.
During "Worldwide" each boy picked a girl from the audience to accompany him onstage. It was one of the night's sweeter moments – the girls were overwhelmed as the four stars of the show flirted and serenaded them.
"I'm sorry we're so sweaty," said Schmidt.
"That's okay," said the audience member he selected. "We're all sweaty too."
Ultimately, Big Time Rush as a band is clean, polished, and has an undeniably "produced" feel. Though the boys are listed as songwriters on some of the tracks on "Elevate," it's hard to believe that Nickelodeon lets them have too much creative control.
However, their music is upbeat and fun, synthesized pop. They're great dancers and they're sweet to their fans. They deliver a fun show to a full house of tweens and teens who have "Kendall" and "Logan" tattooed on their hands.
Yes, they're a boy band – a throwback to the mid-'90s, clean-cut and commercial. Admittedly I am not their target audience, and they don't need to impress people like me. But they still did. They made me think about the Hanson concert I went to years ago, or the Beatles concert my mom caught in 1964. They made me think of being twelve years old. The truth is, the music we connect with defines certain moments in our lives. Beloved songs are like snapshots of ourselves at a certain place and time, and the singers of those songs feel like family to us.
Hanson and I got old, got married and got our braces off. But we'll always have that magical night in July of 1998 (Call me if your marriage falls apart, Taylor). And half the Beatles are dead, but my mom still has her ticket stub.
There will probably be more than a few ticket stubs saved from tonight. To me, that's a successful concert.