As in comedy, the secret to boy band success is timing. Just as the squeal deficit of the early ’80s brought New Kids on the Block to the world, and the cuteness deficiency of the early ’90s spawned the Backstreet Boys, the current girl-dominated pop climate has created a vacuum that all but requires a gaggle of cute boy singers to fill it.
Britain’s One Direction has emerged as the band most likely to do just that. The five-piece group topped the stateside album chart with its debut — a feat that no U.K. act had ever managed — and has already been moving thousands of tickets for a tour in the summer … of 2013. And at this, a Gotham date on their first headlining tour, they offered a few peeks (if not an outright revelation) as to why.
Unlike most of their antecedents, 1-D (as they’re known to fans) don’t fall back on choreography or pre-recorded vocal sweetening — the members don’t have much in the way of dance moves, and occasionally wobble as they warble. That lends a sense of vulnerability to the proceedings and also imparts a degree of authenticity — one that belies the laboratory genesis of the group, which was assembled for the British edition of X Factor (earning a runner-up spot as a result).
The lack of flash didn’t seem to faze the crowd — mostly under 16, with moms accompanying the youngest — one bit. Singalongs were the order of the day for mid-tempo jingles like “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Everything About You” — tunes that were occasionally drowned out by the decibel level emanating from the seats. When the sea of squeals parted, it was evident that all five singers — who shared lead vocals relatively equally — had chops, if little in the way of personality.
Zayn Malik, a Brit of Pakistani ancestry (itself a rarity in the decidedly monochromatic boy band realm) offered the most oomph, his ever-so-slight dangerous streak emphasized by hip-hop threads and a light swagger conveyed by a reticence in the smile department. The chatty Louis Tomlinson held down the other end of the spectrum, acting as de facto MC and fan liaison.
The brief perf was padded by a passel of cover versions, which ranged from well-chosen and fully-realized (Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn”) to admirably over-reaching (Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody”) to utterly lifeless (the Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling”). They managed to end on a high note — one that put the ball squarely in the court of the fan — with an extended version of “I Want” that pleaded for loyalty. Short attention spans aside, it would seem like those appeals are likely to be answered — at least until the group’s next pass through town.