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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Intimacy issues? Not for Maroon 5

A hot-selling act uses the Troubadour's cozy confines to advantage.

June 04, 2007|Mikael Wood | Special to The Times

Last week Maroon 5, the L.A.-based funk-rock quintet that rode a slow rocket to fame with 2002's "Songs About Jane," sold nearly half a million copies of its brand-new sophomore CD, "It Won't Be Soon Before Long." Yet Saturday night the band played a sold-out show at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, where a capacity crowd tops out at around 450.

Do the math: Even if everyone who bought a first-week copy of "It Won't Be Soon" lived in L.A. -- not a completely unreasonable idea, given the number of young Hollywood hotties frontman Adam Levine has romanced -- only one out of every thousand of them could've fit inside at the Troubadour. In this moment of record-industry crisis, why would the No. 1 band in America willfully choose to downsize rather than pack 'em in at a bigger room? Let me count the ways:

1. You can stack the deck. Maroon 5's official fan club, Strength in Numbers (cute acronym alert!), had first dibs on tickets for Saturday's show, which filled the Troubadour with devoted band loyalists (and their boyfriends).

Though the new album contains more than its fair share of toxic-bachelor kiss-offs -- "If I never see your face again," Levine sings in the opening track, "I don't mind, 'cause we got much further than I thought we'd get tonight" -- Maroon 5 is best known for "She Will Be Loved," a syrupy ballad that made the group a favorite among the sort of halter-topped young women who transmit enthusiasm via whoop. On Saturday, these ladies -- including Jessica Simpson, singing along in the VIP section -- rewarded each of Levine's lover-man moves with enough excitement to bolster the singer's sex-god confidence for at least another week or so.

2. You can accentuate your assets. Maroon 5 knew what it was doing on "Songs About Jane," but its craft reaches new heights on the harder-hitting new album, where the band layers brittle funk guitars over throbbing R&B beats. At the Troubadour, the band used the intimate environment to its advantage, filling the small room with dense, polished sound in a way that physicalized the sexual paranoia in Levine's songs. Larger venues afford a broader attack but a much less detailed one, and Maroon 5's music is all about detail.

3. You can tell stories about your childhood. After a typically taut rendition of "If I Never See Your Face Again," Levine called Saturday's show a "wonderful homecoming": At the age of 12, the singer played his first rock concert (with a band called Blurred Vision) at the Troubadour; he sang "Rockin' Robin," he explained, with his back to the audience for the entire song.

Later, Levine informed the crowd that the Troubadour was the first club Maroon 5 ever sold out and said he and his band mates love playing L.A. because it affords an opportunity to "see the people that brought us here."

4. You can wear a sleeveless vest, as Levine did, without getting heckled for it.

5. You don't have to work very hard to instigate goofy call-and-response antics. During "The Sun," a jazzy slow jam from "Songs About Jane," the audience actually engaged Levine in a back-and-forth round of wordless scat singing. Fans even took the initiative to throw their hands in the air and wave them as if they just didn't care.

6. You can exercise a rock star's guitar-solo privileges without inducing a mass exodus to the bar. Lead guitarist James Valentine took several solos throughout the night, each a tasty little flutter of sound and texture. Then Levine stopped the band near the end of "Sweetest Goodbye" so he could spend a minute practicing his licks in public.

7. If you need a breather, you can have the audience fill in for you. Maroon 5 closed Saturday's show with "This Love," a sly disco-rock number that's already become a staple in the repertoire of every wedding band in America. But Maroon 5 didn't actually play the tune's first verse -- the crowd did, singing a cappella while Levine and Valentine traded grins and drummer Matt Flynn toweled himself dry.

8. You can flub your biggest hit. Material from "It Won't Be Soon" felt fresh and energized at the Troubadour, but Maroon 5 sleepwalked through "She Will Be Loved," obviously bored to tears (and to missed notes) by having played the song countless times over the last five years. Still, if anyone in the adoring audience noticed, he or she didn't lodge a complaint. Maybe it's a fan-club bylaw.

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