Why Don’t We Make Twin Cities Debut in Style

Slick collaboration, production, and choreography combine to present a new generation of boy bands, complete with a local element.


Last updated on March 9th, 2018 at 11:41 am

A few weeks back, I wrote about the Minnesota return of young hometowners Hippo Campus, who sold out the Palace Theater with ease. The article featured a small tidbit of wisdom I’ve picked up in my years of live-music-ing: Never miss a hometown show. It was with that in mind that I took on a sold-out First Ave blowout featuring up and coming pop sensations Why Don’t We, a boy band/supergroup that counts among its members Minnesota’s own Instagram star Jonah Marais. Though arguably not a “local group” in the strictest of senses, I went in with the idea that it might be interesting. For the most part, I was not disappointed.

Why Don’t We | First Avenue | March 6, 2018 | ? – @stay_low_keep_firing

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I arrived at the venue at 7:00 sharp (this was an all-ages show on a school night after all), in hopes of catching the opening act, who went by the name EBEN. I hadn’t heard of him, but given how infrequently I attend “boy band” concerts, I wanted to have the full experience.

It was clear that EBEN, given the crowd composition (98{a43c2147d37bcf8b898f59ebaaf066dc60bd9fbfc7430ae40ed3f9adbaab469e} teenage girls, who were 100{a43c2147d37bcf8b898f59ebaaf066dc60bd9fbfc7430ae40ed3f9adbaab469e} enthusiastic), would be playing by different rules than your average performer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crowd as unabashedly and unapologetically enthusiastic to see a relatively unknown opening act take the stage.

The palpable buzz in the crowd carried through EBEN’s set and reached a quasi-religious fervor for the headliners, effervescent in ways only a boy band can inspire. Long story short: it was loud, really loud.

The opening set was so-so. The music mostly consisted of pop-friendly and competent, if somewhat mundane, raps mixed with a touch of contemporary R&B. To his credit, EBEN demonstrated decent stage presence, engaging the audience at every opportunity. There was lots of dancing, and the throngs ate it up, especially during and after the closer, the trending “Lambo.” I don’t know if he’s destined for stardom or not, but he knew his role and did a nice job warming up the frenzied crowd.

My experience with boy bands is limited. I was too young to really engage with the boom of the late 90’s, and since then the genre/movement has sputtered. Yes, One Direction made it big, but countless others, despite showing varying degrees of promise, have failed to match the popularity of the boy bands of days of yore.

So why is this? I’m not entirely sure. The media landscape that once supported these bands has evolved, and the industry they worked within has changed, but have we really lost our collective desire to see attractive young men harmonize and dance in sync (pun very much intended)? I grappled with these questions and others as I watched one of America’s new favorite boy bands take the stage.

WDW’s entrance was, as expected, quite climactic. Lights went down, silhouettes were shown on the screen, and there were more omnipresent screams, this batch louder than any thus far. Ever the democratic group, each member got a turn in the spotlight.

Eventually, they started singing, and the crowd exploded. It was clear from this point on that this show was no place for the uninitiated. Jonah took the opening line on the second song and the crowd loved it. Each member of the quintet had amassed their own large social media following prior to the group’s inception, but, perhaps because of the home state connection, it felt like the crowd showed Jonah a little extra love on this night.

The choreography was in full swing as well. The boys proved to be good, if not brilliant, dancers, moving in lockstep through the various arrangements. Though the choreography wasn’t particularly elaborate or complicated, at least compared to other, more visually-oriented pop shows I’ve seen recently (See: Lopez, Jennifer), they got the job done, and their fans weren’t complaining. Combined with the graphics on the video board, the show was an interesting visual experience, especially when you consider this was a pop show scaled back to rock-club size.

“Just to see you smile” (Not to be confused with the excellent Tim McGraw song) featured a fan montage on the screen, and “Free” (Not to be confused with the alright Zac Brown Song) saw the video board transport the audience to the outer realms of the solar system. Both provoked more screams.

Why Don't We at 1st Ave.

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Much to the delight of the crowd, the band followed this with one of their signature mashups, using a drum machine to lay the groundwork for a jam that would include pieces of pop staples like Jeremih’s “Don’t tell ‘em,” a cleaned up take on “Gucci gang,” and collaborator Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of you.” It wasn’t an entirely novel concept (The Grey Album is 14 years old at this point, and Girl Talk exists), but it worked well in this context and kept the rabid crowd on their toes.

The more electronic pop of “We the Party” preceded one of the more exciting moments of the night, and one of the more underrated moments in any pop show, the outfit change. I’m beginning to love outfit changes because of the flexibility they afford a band, allowing them to pivot and take the show a new or unexpected direction. Though it wasn’t particularly surprising that this band changed outfits (they are a boy band after all), I did like the direction they chose. They opted for a classier look, bowties and sharp suspenders, complimented with a shift in the time of the music. They moved into ballad-fare, starting with “Invitation.” The arrangement and sound felt very 90’s R&B, a direction they would come back to as the show went on, perhaps subtlety signaling an affinity with their boy band lineage in groups like Jodeci and Blackstreet.

The soft synths especially recalled that bygone era, and that’s not inherently a bad thing. “Nobody Gotta Know” again displayed the band’s softer side, as well as their sharpest harmonies of the night. This was a good sign, harmonies are critical to any true boy band’s success.

Following that, WDW reverted back to their 90’s side for the tender ballad “Word’s I Didn’t Say.” It probably wasn’t the high point of the evening, but it had a very conspicuous key change, at which point the fans began throwing roses en masse. Another outfit change later, this time to more “casual” wear, the band emerged with “Only Never Comes,” before moving into the hit “Something Different.” The arrangement, a slightly more aggressive and warped version of the original, set the tone for the last part of the show, which saw moonwalking (!!) during “Boomerang,” and a hyped up “These Girls.”

The band didn’t wait long before coming out for the encore, the Sheeran-penned hit “Trust Fund Baby.” The song, the quintet’s biggest yet, recently debuted high on pop charts. The boy band era may be over, but these boys are looking forward. Only time will tell if they end up anywhere near 1D levels of stardom. For now, though, they’ve gotta like where they stand.

Written by Aaron Williams


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