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Jonas Brothers stretch musical skills, ticket prices

By Scott Mervis
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Jonas Brothers are on the phone and getting a little testy about questions regarding the current tour’s jump in ticket prices from $47.50 to $89.50.
Kevin, at 21 the oldest JoBro, is explaining a theater-in-the-round stage concept he helped design that makes the front rows stretch the whole length of the arena.
“OK,” the reporter in the teleconference says. “But how do you explain the ticket price in this economy?”
“I think essentially,” Nick, 16, jumps in, “we wanted to find a way to provide a bigger and better show for our fans, and this was one of the ways we had to do so.”
“OK,” the reporter persists. “So you don’t have any concern about the ticket price?”
“Sir,” Nick says sternly. “I think you’ve asked your follow-up question. We’d like to move on. Thank you very much.”
Maybe this will help clear it up. It takes a team of 180 people ó 80 traveling with the tour and 100 locally ó up to 10 hours to construct the 140-foot-long stage, which travels in 19 trucks. There are 13 buses for the backing band and crew, and the Jonases are traveling with their parents on a leased Boeing 767.
There’s your $89.50.
A few years ago, things weren’t looking so good for the three musical brothers from New Jersey. Originally a solo project for Nick, the trio was signed to Columbia Records in 2005, released a delayed debut album in 2006 and was summarily dropped by the label in 2007.
Bad move, Columbia.
Hollywood Records picked up the JoBros and hitched them to “Hannah Montana’s” rising star, with an appearance on Miley Cyrus’ TV show and an opening slot on her tour.
“Being our first arena tour, (it) was a big learning experience for us,” says Nick, who doubles as Cyrus’ boyfriend. “It kind of showed us that you really have to play to the last person in the arena and make them feel just as much as part of a show as the person in the front row.”
It won them a legion of screaming teen and tween fans, contributing to the breakout success of a self-titled second album, now close to double platinum. Last year’s follow-up, “A Little Bit Longer,” moved 1.5 million copies and won the group critical acclaim, including four-star reviews from Rolling Stone and Blender.
The current tour ó which brings the trio to Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena on Saturday ó coincides with the release of a fourth album, “Lines, Vines and Trying Times.”
The past year has been huge for the Jonas Brothers, starting with the “Camp Rock” movie, the sold-out “Burning Up” tour, an American Music Award, two MTV Video Music Awards and a Best New Artist nomination. They lost that to Adele but won the night by getting to share the stage with Stevie Wonder.
“That was really, truly an honor and we’re so thankful to him and his team for making it happen,” Nick says.
The past year also has brought a performance at the White House, a 3-D concert film that grossed a so-so $19 million and a Monkees-like Disney sitcom “JONAS,” which drew 4 million viewers for its premiere in May.
Getting parodied on “South Park” for the purity rings was another sign that the boys had arrived.
“I think we always like to, you know, be open to make fun of ourselves,” Nick says, in response to that. “… We did it on ‘SNL’ and it was kind of fun.”
The new album takes a few more chances.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a big jump, but it definitely is a progression in our music and a growth for us,” says 19-year-old frontman Joe. “It has a lot of more kind of horns and a lot more strings. Also there’s more to the music rather than just a typical kind of relationship song.”
Partial inspiration came from an unlikely 68-year-old source: Neil Diamond.
“During the Grammy season,” Nick says, “we had the honor” of performing “Forever in Blue Jeans.” The brothers realized “how amazing (Diamond’s) career has been” and tried to infuse some of his sound in their own. Bands such as the Zutons and the Kings of Leon also have influenced the JoBros. “We’re just trying to grow and continue to learn and have fun.”
The new album’s songs grow out of personal experiences, Nick adds. “But also we’ve been working on trying to use metaphors … to kind of mask a literal thing that happened to us.” He says the band listens to Elvis Costello and tries “to imitate that gift … of being able to tell a story (by) using metaphors.”
Interviews with Nick repeatedly come around to Costello. The two even did an interview together for Rolling Stone.
That’s not to say Elvis fans should expect even a morsel of “Lines, Vines and Trying Times” to sound like him. As the Rolling Stone article noted, the Jonases occupy “an enormous gray area” between teen pop like ‘N Sync and contemporary rock bands like The Fray.
“Don’t Speak” is a stab at a song in the U2/Coldplay vein. “World War III” has more of Prince’s stamp. “Poison Ivy” has been rightly described as “Weezer-ish.” “Don’t Charge Me for the Crime,” an urban foray with rapper Common, won’t convince anyone that the Jonases are ghetto.
“We know we’re young guys and we’re on a musical journey,” Joe says.
How long that lasts is anyone’s guess. The Backstreet Boys had about six years at the top, ‘N Sync more like five and Hanson just three.
“We’re doing what we love and we know that our fans will grow up with us,” Nick says.
E-mail Scott Mervis at smervis@post-gazette.com.

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