By their very nature, radio-sponsored shows are hurried affairs, with artists dishing out only a handful of songs, primarily their hits, as thank yous to the station for furthering their careers thus far. Though that doesn’t exactly give them a chance to build much momentum, nor expose their audiences to the rarities and treats a full show might allow, it does transfer the idea of a radio format to a live setting in the most fan-pleasing way possible. And as evident from the screams at New York Top 40 station Z100’s annual Jingle Ball, held Thursday at Madison Square Garden, the fans got their fill of holiday cheer via the brief but highly energetic sets offered by Ricky Martin, Third Eye Blind and Barenaked Ladies.
The Baha Men — who opened the show without introduction by jumping into their summer hit “Who Let the Dogs Out” — at first tried to defy their one-hit wonder tag offstage in the press room, but easily succumbed by barking out the song’s refrain repeatedly for anyone who asked. Sadly, their use of junkanoo, the Christmas festival music of the Bahamas, was not played up, as would have been appropriate for the event.
The holiday theme appeared to be one mainly of setting and costume, as Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins looked Dickens-esque in a top hat and coat and presenter Jessica Simpson dressed in a form-fitting Santa suit before joining her beau Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees on “Where You Are.” Though fellow teen queen Britney Spears was also on the bill, she only acted as a brief presenter, as did Justin Timberlake of ‘N Sync, in a surprise appearance to introduce Son By Four.
Spirited sets from Third Eye Blind and Barenaked Ladies were welcome respites from much of the bland teen pop offered on the bill. Third Eye Blind concentrated mainly on their early work, giving energetic reads of “Graduate,” “Jumper” and “Semi-Charmed Life.” As if to make fun of the format, Barenaked Ladies launched into a spoof run-through of the hooks of many of the artists on the radio station’s playlist, from a chest-pumping take on Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic to Madonna’s “Music,” eventually culminating in a Baha Men joke dance step that found singers Steven Page and Ed Robertson shaking their booties a la Ricky Martin. Martin shook his own bon bon aplenty when he took to the stage in a pyrotechnic-laden headlining spot, kicking things off with a highly suggestive “She Bangs.” With a full backing band (many of the performers had played to track), Martin kept his four-song set so upbeat, each song appeared to be the climax.
Though not much was said about the holiday festivities onstage, Jenkins was more than happy to elaborate backstage about his feelings on the season. For Christmas, he said, he plans to go to midnight mass with his mother in Portland, though neither is a believer in God. “But I’m a big believer in praying,” he explained, “and I’m a believer in singing. So it’s an opportunity to sing and pray, and I like that a lot. I think religion is a bunch of hooey, and I think that the holidays are an opportunity for people to get stressed out, getting their rush to shop. It’s so conformist.”