If you have not watched Adam Levine, lead singer for the Maroon 5, as a judge on NBC's competitive singing show The Voice or bouncing around the Academy Awards broadcast, perhaps you might be interested in hearing about what he's doing in his natural habitat: fronting Maroon 5, who sold out the Wells Fargo Center on Monday.
The thin, high-haired, immaculately unshaven Levine and his brethren did a dazzling job of making big, rhythmic pop, with a good deal of reggae in the mix, all while remaining absolutely and sensationally soulless. This is, ironically, a compliment to Maroon 5's power, finesse, and coolly tempered emotionalism. David Bowie even gave this sound a name when he released Young Americans in 1975: plastic soul.
From the driving, sensual "Animals," with its windmilling guitars and tribal thumping, through the speedy, sleek (and Chic-y) "Moves Like Jagger," to the spicily pleading "Sugar," Maroon 5 made such sweat-free emotionalism look easy. That's a job in and of itself, and the band (very much a real band on stage, much more than merely Levine's backing unit) worked hard to please, while keeping that cool reserve. When it came to covering "Stereo Hearts" by Gym Class Heroes, Levine indulged the Sting-like qualities of his voice (the open throat, the "oh-ah-ohs") while Maroon 5 served up halting rhythms and spare playing. On more than a few occasions early in the band's hard, fast set (no song seemed to last longer than five minutes), Levine and company played up these nods to the Police - an interesting direction, for sure.
Not to say there weren't moments of deep feeling, passionate adoration, and rootsy grooving. The descending-stair funk of "This Love" was downright nasty. "Makes Me Wonder" contained more hooks in its bridge than most young Auto-Tune pop acts will have in their careers, and it allowed Levine his snakiest vocal and his naughtiest lyrics. The slow, steady "Sunday Morning" lit a fire under Levine's falsetto and put steam into Maroon 5's most soulful sensibilities. If that flame could rage higher and burn brighter more consistently, perhaps the chill around Maroon 5's brand of soul would thaw and the whole vibe would be sultrier. For now, though, Maroon 5 was just fine.