What kind of blog crew follows a five-day SXSW music binge with a double shot of power-pop built for those born in the second Clinton administration? Why Rocks Off, of course. Think of it as a preemptive inoculation for the two minutes or so of post-SXSW, pre-iFest/Summerfest doldrums. We booked it from Austin to Houston early Sunday afternoon, fueled by artistic curiosity and the Jeff the Brotherhood record to see America's favorite new Canadian pop star, Justin Bieber, and the Texas-born Selena Gomez drain money out of the pockets of parents and send preteens into fits of insanity at RodeoHouston's last show of 2010. Kind of a far cry from mustachioed hipsters with Hitler haircuts and chicks with throat tats we waded with off Sixth Street for the past few hazy days. The sold-out crowd, in excess of 72,800 screaming children and young teens, was way more rabid than the lethargy we saw in droves just two weeks ago at the Jonas Brothers' one-night stand. In a real sense, Bieber and (to a lesser extent) Gomez are at the point that the J-Bros and their opener Demi Lovato were just a few years ago. It was as if the two sets of acts have switched places. No doubt a third act is now being polished for a summer radio blitzkrieg to undo Bieber at this very moment. Gomez isn't reinventing the wheel with her brand of Hilary Duff-derived pop-rock, with each song seemingly floating on a bed of eerie familiarity, boasting not influences so much as time-tested cues. Kind of like rote pop-single engineering. Sassy snarls here, girly-longing there, throw in an old-school cover if you can (Pilot's 1974 gem "Magic"), and shake well until you can start posing in Maxim or a sexy vampire movie.
She did though hold down a cover of her namesake, the original Selena's "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom," turning it into the Tejano Blondie nugget it was always meant to be. Things could get interesting down the line with Gomez, so we'll just see.
It was kind of cruel for the RodeoHouston organizers to harsh the pop mellow of the kids with a ten-minute bull-riding highlight reel in between Gomez and Bieber's set. The crowd collectively groaned with each clip of a bull pummeling a man, only briefly perking up when the Ford truck would pull up to the stage to drop off Bieber's backing band. All bets were off once JBs' Ford Explorer pulled around 6:45 p.m.
Bieber's image and stage persona is about as calculated a space-shuttle launch. Every single nuisance and twitch looks like it was formulated in front of one of those foreboding mirrored rehearsal halls you see in behind-the-scenes footage. Even creepier is that the kid oozes showbiz, as if he was born inside the studios of E! in some pop-fermilab... or Canada. The latter, which is the actual truth, is no less jarring.
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Call us crazy, call us uncouth or no-fun doom monsters, but we like our pop-stars tarnished. This Bieber kid is way too polished and comes off as pompous as all hell, and the lyrics of something like "One Less Lonely Girl" or "U Smile" sound like they were cribbed from a note we have may have sent a chick in seventh grade. (Seriously, that's probably why we didn't have a real girlfriend until sophomore year.)
There seems to be no shred of humility in any of his poses or sauntering. At least the Jonas Brothers look genuinely happy to see folks getting down to their jams. Bieber seems like the kind of snotty kid we all hated in the old Nintendo commercials who owned every game and popped the collar of his jean jacket and wore neon yellow shades indoors and slept with his PowerGlove on.
Even when he shouted out to all the "gorgeous women" in the crowd it felt like he was reading off an ObamaPrompter. Nonetheless, more likely than not, we will get a dozen comments refuting all this. Bring it on, but kids, just remember that in less than two years you won't likely remember or care why you felt the exact way you are about to iterate to us in the next two minutes of feverish typing.