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Demi Lovato rises (slightly) above pop-concert formula

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/24/01/30/Ashyc.Em.138.jpeg|316
    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/24/01/30/9UW82.Em.138.jpeg|401
    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com

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On the one hand, Demi Lovato’s Neon Lights Tour is a big fat cliche.

She came on stage at Time Warner Cable Arena Sunday night fashionably late (unfortunate considering it was a school night); she filled the spaces between songs with tightly rehearsed sentences like “I’m so excited to be here” and “I really do have the most amazing fan base” (perhaps genuine, but still awfully trite); and there was a massive video screen that broadcast images of her doing standard music-video things, from swimming underwater to getting snowed on, from being surrounded by flames to lying on the hood of a muscle car.

There were colored spotlights, dry ice, wind machines, reliance on a cellphone app that emits neon strobes ... oh, and confetti cannons at the end. I would have bet $1,000 that there would be confetti cannons – and I would have won.

Yup. If there’s a template for a big-budget pop-music concert, the former Disney Channel star/former “X Factor” judge found it, studied it, followed it to a T.

And yet Lovato manages to be just interesting enough to concertgoers who fall outside her core demographic of 12- to 17-year-old girls.

For starters, Lovato did not appear to lip-synch, something that sadly happens frequently when it comes to pop shows at this arena (her friend Selena Gomez, for instance, mimed several songs when she was here in October).

Her voice isn’t astounding, but it’s certainly very good – it holds up under scrutiny (an a capella version of “Catch Me” was pitch perfect), it’s got a smoky maturity that works well on power ballads like “Skyscraper,” and it injects sass into more upbeat numbers like “Really Don’t Care.”

Lovato is more than just pipes, too. She took a turn on the drums before launching into energetic B-side “The Middle,” sat at the piano for the emotional “Warrior,” and briefly wailed away on an electric guitar during the hard-rockin’ “Got Dynamite.”

She mellowed out “Made in the USA” nicely, delivered a bluesy “Don’t Forget,” got lounge-y with “Here We Go Again,” and was a hair-whipping rock diva during “Remember December.”

As luck would have it, Lovato also is linked to one of the most iconic movie tie-in songs of the decade. So when she launched into her radio-ready version of “Let It Go” from Disney’s animated blockbuster “Frozen” about two-thirds of the way through her 73-minute set Sunday, fans were rapturous. Her poppier take doesn’t measure up against Broadway star Idina Menzel’s, but it earns its place as a crowd-pleaser (although it was disappointing that the band drowned out the big notes near the end).

Despite veiled references to Lovato’s stint in rehab for cocaine addiction, and her struggles with cutting and bipolar disorder – all of which probably went over younger fans’ heads – the entire show was family-friendly. There wasn’t a single curse word, there was no innuendo, her midriff was never exposed.

And good for her. Those are cliches we as parents can live without.

Janes: 704-358-5897
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