Monday, June 11, 2012 | 5:11 p.m.
One Direction in video form
The text arrived in a string of panicky messages. The news was not good: Mechanical problems had delayed the flight carrying Aunt Chris and cousin Quincee from Boise to Salt Lake City and, finally, Las Vegas.
The ultimate destination was a musical Mecca for teenage girls: Saturday night’s One Direction concert at Planet Hollywood's Theater for the Performing Arts. My aunt and her 13-year-old daughter had planned to be at the hotel by about 5 p.m., plenty of time for Quincee and I to be seated for the sold-out show.
But now ...
“Can’t make it until after 8, if at all. Tell me if it is worth it.”
Is it worth it? I was tempted to respond, “Ask Quincee.” But that was needless. She was crying at the moment, deeply despondent as airline customer-service reps scrambled to find a flight that would re-route the flight or flights to Las Vegas in time for the concert.
The show was to start at 7:30 p.m., when opening act Olly Murs was scheduled to take the stage. But the boys themselves were not to start until 8:50.
Wheels on the ground at 8. One Direction at 8:50.
Was it worth it? It had to be.
“Just get here!” I typed back.
We’d planned this trip for weeks, as Quincee is gaga for One Direction, the five-guy U.K. singing group assembled by Simon Cowell who are sending the hearts of teen girls racing across the globe.
It would be a race against the clock. Chris and Quincee were to be toted from Boise to Salt Lake City to Phoenix to Las Vegas. I set up at the Theater for the Performing Arts, picking up our tickets as hundreds of fans -- the vast majority of them giddy young girls wearing One Direction T-shirts -- waited for the theater doors to open.
When they did, a piercing shriek cut through the lobby, spilling onto the casino floor.
This was a show not to be missed.
Chris and Quincee were en route, but I felt there was scant chance of them arriving at the theater in time for the start of the concert. I thought of the luckless cabbie who would cart my relatives from the airport to Planet Hollywood and the conversation that would unfold when he picked up Chris and Quincee.
“Planet Hollywood! One Direction!”
“I’ll go in that direction.”
“One Direction! Now!”
At 8:15 p.m., after an agonizing wait for any sort of progress report, Chris texted again: “We are at the door.”
“The door of the airplane?” I asked, believing they were about to depart the craft and embark on a mad dash from McCarran to Planet Hollywood.
I knifed through the crowd to the TPA entrance. There they were: Chris gripping the handle of her luggage and Quincee excitedly telling one of the ushers about their trek to the hotel, a trip where 30 minutes were magically cut from their flight time.
It was a miracle! A One Direction miracle!
“They have been through an odyssey,” I told the usher at the entrance.
“We’ve heard!” she said. When she scanned my ticket, she looked at me and said, “Another daddy! We’ve had a lot of daddies come through tonight.”
Daddy? I felt that statement afforded me temporary parenting authority over my little cousin. “You behave!” I called out to Quincee, pointlessly, as we rushed toward the tunnel leading to our seats
After Olly Murs finished his set -- and his performance was entirely incidental, given the drawing power of the headliners -- the crowd stood and sang along to the soundtrack of “Grease.” Impressively, they knew all the words to the songs from a movie released when their parents were kids. Quincee and I toggled the lines of “Summer Nights,” and that alone made the trip worthwhile.
The arrival of One Direction was something I’d prepared for, understanding we’d be hit by a wall of sound created by several thousand young lungs filling the arena. There was ancillary screaming throughout the intermission, including when (reportedly) girlfriends of the boys were spotted walking through the audience.
The screaming built as the house lights dropped and videos of the members of One Direction riding in a VW bus were played on the five LED screens set up around the stage.
Then they walked out. The sound emanating from that screaming audience was so powerful, I involuntarily ducked. It felt like a missile was homing in on the theater.
I turned to Quincee, her arm raised in unbridled glee. She shouted something I could not hear but was pretty obviously a cry of approval.
As for what the show offered, artistically, well, there was certainly a lot of energy expended from the quintet of Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson. They debuted on “The X Factor U.K.” about a year and a half ago, finishing third. They are primarily British (Horan is Irish) and are 18 to 20 years old.
Shrewdly recognizing a market for uplifting, Justin Bieber-like pop music that is parent- and kid-friendly, One Direction has scored with its debut album, “Up All Night,” which has sold about 7 zillion (or more like 700,000) copies. The first single from that album, “What Makes You Beautiful,” has surpassed 2 million units sold. The video of that song has amassed more than 158 million views on YouTube (including, now, one by me, and it’s a pretty slick clip).
The frenzied fan reaction to One Direction has been, and I almost hate to use the term, Beatle-esque. When the boys appeared for a live performance on the “Today” show, the crowd at Rockefeller Plaza swelled to 15,000 and spilled into the surrounding streets. Their show at Mandalay Bay Events Center for next year (Aug. 3) is about 1,800 tickets short of a sellout.
Watching them perform live, you do understand some of what all the hubbub is about. They are good-looking guys, similar in age but unique in their appearance (Styles has a particularly distinctive harry style, a pronounced swoop-over the girls go nuts for). They are dressed chicly, as if modeling for the Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger websites. They stride around the stage like they own it, smiling and preening and ducking panties and other fan-tossed mementos (including, on Saturday night, a stack of escort-service cards wrapped in a rubber band that are handed out on the Strip).
They can sing, too. One Direction is, vocally, very good. But it is not always easy to tell if they are not singing over tracks as they march, en masse, across the stage, their voices not wavering.
“They don’t really dance, do they?!” I shouted at Quincee early in the show.
“There is not much choreography!” she shouted back, her eyes fixed on the stage.
This is not a dance show, at least not in the spirit of such boybands of previous eras like New Kids on the Block and N ’Sync. The choreography is evident mostly in video form, as clips of the guys surfing and snowboarding played behind the music. At one point, a large, burgundy couch, which appeared upholstered in fine leather, was rolled onstage so the guys could casually banter with one another and the audience. It was the only time the screens abated. A few Twitter messages, posted live by fans in the arena, were displayed on the LED screen behind the stage.
The guys were asked, “Tell us your cheesiest pickup line.” This was a moment to seize, but none of the guys could readily recite anything cheesy-funny. It was left to their guitarist to fill the void with, “Do you believe in love at first sight, or would you like me to walk past again?”
I have high hopes for the guitarist.
But the segment took a big chunk of the show, a needed time filler as the group has just a single album of original material to perform.
The night’s highlight, for me, was the cover of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” which introduced an edgier tenor than One Direction’s own hits. But the band’s originals are catchy and hooky, fun to sing along to if you’re a teenager or happen to be in a goofy mood. The audience screamed to the by-now recognizable songs “What Makes You Beautiful,” “Everything About You,” “Up All Night” and “One Thing,” a song with an insistent beat that could send the One Direction devotees marching into the streets if called upon.
The show lasted about 80 minutes, not bad for an act with just one album released. On our way out, we were fairly halted by the crowd of thousands of kids leaving the theater and jamming the exits.
“What is it about these guys that sets them apart?” I asked Quincee, my ears ringing and stinging from the experience.
“They are so talented! They are gorgeous and charming!” she called back. I said I felt young Harry and Niall (who has the magnanimity to be a great game- or talk-show host someday) had the best chances of breaking out, Justin Timberlake-style, from the One Direction experience.
Quincee was not interested in the band in pieces, just as a whole.
“I hope they never break up,” she said.
On our way out, the One Direction “groupthink” quality surfaced as we were halted by the crowd of thousands of kids leaving the theater and jamming the exits. Without prompting, the crowd began singing “What Makes You Beautiful,” shouting the chorus harmoniously, “You don’t know you’re beautifuuuuul!”
The moment was entirely spontaneous. You couldn’t help but laugh. It was joyful and wholly genuine, an almost inexplicable display of devotion.
Soon I would take Quincee back to Chris, who had asked hours earlier if the effort was worth it.
The look on the face of this 13-year-old fan of One Direction would be all the answer she’d need.