MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL
Mahone, Shawn Mendes, Fifth Harmony and the Vamps at the Rave's Eagles
The next big teen pop idol, Austin Mahone, doesn't like to be compared to Justin Bieber. These days, who can blame him?
The 18-year-old Mahone — like Bieber, a fresh-faced pop singer plucked from YouTube to make a profit off teen girls (and their parents) — certainly has his act together better than "bad boy" Biebs right now.
Mahone's 75-minute set for a couple thousand "Mahomies" at the Rave's Eagles Ballroom Saturday — complete with choreography set like clockwork and six impressive backing dancers — elicited the incessant, top-of-their-lungs screaming you'd expect.
But Mahone is still missing the ambition and musical maturity of Bieber in his 2012 prime. Before the fall from grace, Bieber and his team closely studied idols and predecessors like Justin Timberlake and Michael Jackson. Bieber's cool "Boyfriend" could have been an early Timberlake track, while "Die in Your Arms" was a snappy 21st-century take on the Jackson 5.
And Team Bieber was actually ahead of his fellow pop idols in embracing electronic dance music, roping in a then-little-known Zedd to co-produce "Beauty and a Beat."
Mahone's taken recent steps to broaden his sound, with the Pitbull-assisted "Mmm Yeah" and "Banga! Banga!," an odd cross between a mid-aughts hip-hop track and the sound of an old dial-up modem. Both songs Saturday were played with easygoing confidence and consistently steady — if unspectacular — vocals. The best part about the performances, and about Mahone, were the dance moves — hip shakes, arm pops, peppy body bounces and more, all upholding 'N Sync's fine boy-band standards.
But Saturday's set was still primarily kid's stuff, with the crowd-pleasing, cliched gimmicks we've seen again and again — the nakedly scripted, poorly acted "we're just dudes" banter (between Mahone and his silent dancers); the schmaltzy acoustic session; the PG-rated, peek-a-boo abs striptease; and, of course, the onstage serenade of "the girl of his dreams."
But bear in mind Mahone hasn't even released a full-length album yet. Already a capable entertainer with a strong fan base, Mahone has the potential to shed those Bieber comparisons for good. All he needs is to be a musical trendsetter instead of a follower. Easier said than done, of course.
It seemed like everyone was there at 7 p.m. sharp for the first opener. Shawn Mendes, who turned 16 Friday, just released his self-titled four-song debut EP last week ... but with a massive following for his music videos on the Vine app, the EP debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard charts.
Mendes doesn't have the life or stage experience to, say, sing a heart-wrenching break-up song like A Great Big World's "Say Something" (slipped into his own wannabe tearjerker "The Weight") with any sort of emotional significance. But he technically sounded good, played acoustic guitar fine, and looked good doing it. It's all the girls wanted from his 15-minute set.
Girl group Fifth Harmony followed, from Simon Cowell's axed Fox singing competition show "The X Factor," with a set super-heavy on hair tosses, with the occasional stand-out vocal.
Generally, the guys get the most screams at these kinds of shows, but the fans reserved plenty of lung power for Harmony, particularly snappy and sassy female power set closer "Bo$$." With lyrics like "Working for the money cause that's what my mama taught me," it's the kind of song even the 'rents may have wanted to cheer for.
Accents and instruments are in with boy bands these days, and English group the Vamps supplied both during its six-song, 35-minute set.
But the lads — who just released the debut EP in the United States, "Somebody to Know," this past Tuesday — didn't play those instruments particularly well, and their harmonies were equally sloppy in a couple of spots. But the Vamps played with amped-up energy — stage sprints, stage spins, and drummer Tristan Evans split a stick. And the band was good enough to transform Jason Derulo's "Trumpets" into a toe-tapping ska punk tune — with a little "No Woman, No Cry" tossed in.
And appreciation points for introducing "Cecilia" to a new generation, although if the girls in the crowd actually saw a picture of the guy who wrote the original — the now 72-year-old Paul Simon — they'd probably scream, and not in a good way.