B*Witched, 98 Degrees, Monica et al: Nickelodeon’s All That Music & More, Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, Los Angeles CA

A Smartly Wrapped Package: All That Music & More tour’s acts fly by in a format tailored to kids.

THERE’S NO accounting for irrational behaviour when it comes to idol worship — especially when you’re a kid. So who could blame the horde of adolescent females at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Sunday for shrieking their heads off during Nickelodeon’s All That Music & More tour?

After all, the package show was sheer teeny-pop nirvana, featuring a clutch of perky performers dancing and (sometimes) singing their way into the crowd’s rapidly beating hearts.

The All That format was tailor-made for short attention spans. Performances were carried out with swift dispatch, and between-sets entertainment — the “commercials” — was provided by the cast of Nick’s popular comedy sketch show of the same name and an amiable deejay who went by the name of DJ Nags.

While the best rock is about spontaneity and capturing the moment, teen pop aims to please by capturing moments that have already been logged on videos and CDs. For most of All That’s artists, that meant singing to backing tracks. But familiarity breeds affection in teen popdom, which meant the night’s earliest, lesser-known acts played to a sparse crowd.

Squeaky-clean quartet No Authority went for visual splash; they wore bright matching outfits and pulled off a few nifty dance moves, but it couldn’t compensate for such generic boy-pop. The same went for the next two acts, 11-year-old Aaron Carter and trio EYC, whose vocal limitations and ham-fisted material weighed them down.

Things perked up a bit when Irish female quartet B*Witched hit the stage. Wearing denim get-ups that looked like Betsey Johnson rejects, the toothsome foursome bounced and sashayed its way through surprisingly eclectic pop, which provided shades of Celtic folk and heavy metal. The fact that the band members occasionally appeared to mimic singing their parts didn’t seem to deter the kids.

Only the show’s final two acts, Monica and 98 Degrees, used real, live musicians for their sets. In Monica’s case, however, it was something of a liability. Her big production values and over-the-top choreography struck a bum note on an evening that strived for gleefully shameless artifice. There were so many costume changes that it seemed like she was only onstage for half of her allotted time, and her coolly diffident presence and reliance on ballads didn’t entirely connect with this crowd.

Show-closers 98 Degrees didn’t have that problem. Wearing flak jackets and military fatigues — the better to show off buff bods — the Ohio quartet had something for everyone. They reached out to the crowd’s elders with covers of Prince’s ‘1999’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’, threw in the Offspring’s ‘Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)’ for comic relief, then turned the girls’ hearts to mush with their streamlined, lovelorn pop.

If the crowd’s deafening shrieks are any indication, 98 Degrees seem poised to knock the Backstreet Boys off their perch as teen pop’s reigning teen deities. They managed to project both boyish charm and testosterone-charged sexuality, and their biggest hits were greeted like heaven-kissed valentines. You might say they were all that, and more.

© Marc WeingartenLos Angeles Times, 27 July 1999

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