Maroon 5 at Reliant Stadium, 3/13/2014

Maroon 5 Reliant Stadium March 13, 2014

Adam Levine is a different breed of pop star than he was when Maroon 5 earwormed its way onto our iPods 12 years ago. Thanks to the power of reality television, he's more visible, more vocal and -- need I say -- just sexier. But his band's music as of late? Increasingly boring.

That same creative apathy threaded Maroon 5's third RodeoHouston show Thursday night, built on an energetic string of hits that sounded, to the band's detriment, almost identical to the versions we've heard over the past decade.

Maybe that's taking him for granted, though. After all, it's no small feat that Levine's very specific, stylized sound can translate live, note for note, in this era of Autotune. But there was a ceiling to his performances, an air of predictability that would have sunk the best of his Voice contestants.

Openers "One More Night" and "This Love" were sturdy crowd-pleasers and nothing more. Dubstep-teetering "Harder to Breathe," the band's first single, felt dynamic but ultimately too familiar. It wasn't until "Sunday Morning" that I heard a voice (no pun intended), an in-the-moment personality as Levine sunk his teeth into the jazzy, infectious melody.

He carried that groove into a cover of Prince's "I Wanna Be Your Lover" and a punchy version of "Makes Me Wonder" (boringly bleeping out the pivotal curse word; more on that in a sec), but lost his footing later during a lukewarm take on No. 1 hit "Moves Like Jagger." In a sense, the concert felt like a televised special: carefully rehearsed with only measured, baby risks such as kicking off "Wake Up Call" with the terrific opening bars of Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder." A fleeting moment of innovation.

So that's my story and I'm sticking to it -- but the audience will tell a different one. Levine and his band performed to about 75,000 people, a crowd that screamed for him in between beats and fawned over every guitar solo. When he confessed that the rotating stage made him nauseous, I half-expected a pack of girls to bring him Dramamine and a cold compress.

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His impact was most apparent during the reggae-infused "Stereo Hearts" -- side note: I for real thought he was about to bust out with John Legend's "All of Me"; too bad he didn't -- and an acoustic "She Will Be Loved," both of which made for emphatic singalongs. For his part, Levine engaged endearingly with the crowd: "You're so far away!" he lamented at one point.

But the most noteworthy moment of the night came near the end, when Levine revealed that he had been banned from RodeoHouston eight years ago, following a cheeky slip-up. During the band's 2006 concert, he caught onto the way the stadium scroll was picking up his every word, and tested his limit with a cocktail of foul language. "I'm very, very honored to be here," he said after apologizing, and just like that, it all made sense.

Personal Bias: 1) I bought the "Sexiest Man Alive" issue of People and read every word. 2) "Love Somebody" is my jam.

The Crowd: Mixed, skewing older. Turns out some of those original Maroon 5 fans are in their thirties now. What?

Overheard In the Crowd: "His sleeves keep getting higher as he sings," notes an observant guy sitting next to me, much to his girlfriend's amusement. How else does one show off his many tattoos?

Random Notebook Dump: NO "MISERY"? I can't.


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