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Review: Tampa's Jingle Ball closes out 2015 with Demi Lovato, 5 Seconds of Summer at Amalie Arena



The end of the road’s not a bad place to be.

“This is our last show of the year,” said Calum Hood of Aussie heartthrobs 5 Seconds of Summer, who opened the seventh annual 93.3-FLZ Jingle Ball on Saturday at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. “So we’re gonna collectively make it the best show...

“...of all time,” interjected bandmate Luke Hemmings.

Okay, well, that might be a little ambitious. Then again, Tampa’s carved out a niche as the last stop on radio giant iHeartMedia’s annual Jingle Ball tour, a year-end Snapchat screenshot of the 52 weeks that were in pop music. And as the sold-out crowd of 13,262 was reminded time and time again Saturday night, anything can happen at the end of a tour, from one-night-only collaborations to a mini-Jonas Brothers reunion.

“I’m so f---ing happy to be here,” said Swedish chanteuse Tove Lo in one of the night’s few racy moments. “Let’s go crazy, okay?”

At the Jingle Ball, there’s barely any time to do anything else. Most of the lineup’s dozen artists were limited to sets of less than 20 minutes – all the better to squeeze in hit after hit after hit – with the entire night running on a timetable of ruthless precision.

For the second straight year, 93.3's hammer slot went to Demi Lovato, the onetime Disney princess whose new album Confident flexes all all sorts of self-actualizing muscles. A powerhouse on the mic as always, Lovato roared joyfully through new songs like For You, Stone Cold and Cool For the Summer, during which she brought out Tove Lo to sing and leap along.

But even though her set closed the night, Lovato essentially shared co-headlining status with 5 Seconds of Summer, who opened the show. Playing their second Tampa show in three months, the charismatic pop-punk quartet undoubtedly moved as many tickets than anyone, and inspired a chorus of squeals and who-oh-ohs on the booming Jet Black Heart.

The only act who got more time than 5 Seconds of Summer was Nick Jonas, the JoBro-gone-solo who thrilled fans at every turn of a night-stealing set – the muscular Chains, the disco-soul throbber Levels, a brief acoustic cover of Drake’s Hotline Bling. He even initiated a mini-Jonas Brothers reunion by bringing out older brother Joe Jonas of goofy dance-rock troupe DNCE out for a sing-along of Feliz Navidad. (Next year, Kevin. Next year.)

The most eye-popping display of the night belonged, hands down, belonged to Zedd, one of the few DJs with enough pop hits to feel right at home on a bill like the Jingle Ball. After being introduced by the Lightning’s Ben Bishop and Jason Garrison, he spewed smoke and pyro and shot lasers across the arena as fans bounced to propulsive hits Break Free, I Want You To Know and Stay the Night.

But the loudest screams – even louder than 5 Seconds of Summer or the Jonases – went to 17-year-old acoustic popster Shawn Mendes, who also brought out the night’s biggest unbilled cameo, Fifth Harmony singer Camila Cabello, for a duet of their new single I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Like Mendes, other up-and-comers offered some choice moments on the Jingle Ball stage.

Grammy-nominated piano-popster Charlie Puth only got 10 minutes and three songs, but his songcraft and work on the ivories was inspired, particularly on a stripped-bare rendition of his monster hit See You Again. “I’m going to play this and try not to cry,” he said. But when the full arena joined in, it must’ve been tough.

Australian singer Conrad Sewell spent half his song Hold Me Up marching up and down the arena’s center aisle while riffing Daft Punk’s Get Lucky with fans. Joe Jonas did the same during DNCE’s caffeinated set, sprinting around the arena floor on frenetic closer Cake By the Ocean.

Oscar-nominated True Grit star Hailee Steinfeld may be a pop music rookie, but the propulsive rumble of her empowering earworm Love Myself was hard to resist. Caribbean pop duo R. City pulled off some impressive coordinated leaps on their single Locked Away.

“We've been to Tampa twice to perform, but nothing like this,” R. City’s Theron Thomas said backstage. “This arena is crazy.”

And while Swedish pop chanteuse Tove Lo, who’s played all 11 of this year’s Jingle Balls, seemed eager to get off the road for a bit (“I’m going to hang out with my parents and lay still with my dog and eat a lot of food,” she said backstage), it didn’t impact her performance, a spinning swirl of studded leather and black tights that crescendoed with hits Talking Body and Habits.

Pop life may be draining, especially on the hectic daily roadshow that is the Jingle Ball. But at the end of the day -- the end of the year -- the thrill of performing for 13,000 screaming fans trumps all.

“It’s just such a cool experience,” said another newbie, 19-year-old Alessia Cara, who delivered a feisty version of her antisocial anthem Here. “You get to experience what it’s like to just play an arena. It’s just validating all my feelings for wanting to do this.”

That’s the other great thing about the end of the road. There’s no better perspective from which to look back.

-- Jay Cridlin and Robbyn Mitchell

[Last modified: Sunday, December 20, 2015 2:35am]


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