|Adam Levine performing with Maroon 5 at the Jazz Fest on May 3.|
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Before Adam Levine found his "Voice" as a mega-famous TV talent show coach, he was a singer in a Los Angeles band called Maroon 5. At the New Orleans Jazz Fest on Friday, he was once again.
It is a testament to the drawing power of a pop band with an even more popular lead singer that many thousands of people will stand in what was essentially a sty -- a sopping, shoe-sucking slop consisting of mud, water and what smells like thoroughbred excrement -- to see and hear said band. The sizable contingent of adolescent females on hand screeched and hooted in approval when Levine removed his leather jacket to reveal a thin white T-shirt and his tattoo sleeves.
Perhaps trying to ward off Friday's chilly temperatures, Levine was in constant motion. Easily the most intense of the judges on "The Voice," he seems constrained by the revolving red chair from which he solicits aspiring singers. On the broad Acura Stage, he could expend as much frontman energy as he wanted.
To that end, he shimmied and whirled. He dashed to and fro. He strapped on a guitar for the occasional solo or strum. He served as his bandmates' biggest cheerleader, announcing not once but twice that auxiliary keyboardist PJ Morton is a New Orleans native (Morton is the son of Greater St. Stephen's Bishop Paul S. Morton). He noted the difficult choices Jazz Fest attendees face, admitting that he kind of wanted to go see Willie Nelson at the Gentilly Stage but, alas, duty called.
He also went to great lengths to deny that a poster held aloft in the crowd of what looked like a naked Adam Levine atop a motorcycle was him; apparently it is a Brazilian model and Levine lookalike named Rafael Lazzini. "I will sign it if you like, as long as you understand...that that is not me," Levine said.
He also sang on point and in key. Maroon 5's best songs -- including much of "Songs About Jane," the band's multi-million-selling 2002 debut -- boast uncluttered arrangements, clearly defined hooks and melodies, clean guitar lines, a tidy rhythm section and a little lagniappe, be it a whiff of funk or reggae.
Case in point: The staccato "One More Night," which came off like reggae run through a condenser at the Fair Grounds. Levine opened "The Sun" with a Michael Jackson-esque "tee-hee"; later, he strapped on an electric guitar to engage lead guitarist James Valentine in a brief rock-off. He and the band knocked out a chiseled "Harder to Breathe." Up-and-coming singer Rozzi Crane, newly signed to Levine's 222 Records, joined him to cover the Mary J. Blige part in "Wake Up Call." "This Love" was every bit the guitar-pop gem it is on "Songs About Jane."
The show's finale was never in doubt. The shimmying dance-pop 2011 single "Moves Like Jagger" was Maroon 5's biggest hit since "Songs About Jane," and one of the biggest singles of that year. It was met with a predictably joyous reception at the Fair Grounds. Valentine's chiming riffs channeled Chic's Nile Rodgers; by the song's conclusion, he shifted gears for some power riffage.
"Keeping supporting live music," Levine announced. "It's important."