A Kissmas miracle, for teens at least

Tuesday night, a lead singer walked onto the stage of a sold-out HSBC Arena, strumming an acoustic guitar. And before he broke into the first verse, it was clear that he knew his audience.

“Let’s see you put those cell phones up!” urged Martin Johnson, lead singer/ rhythm guitarist of Boys Like Girls, the opening act of Kissmas Bash 2007 — an event in which 75 percent of the audience was probably too young to be carrying a lighter.

And judging by the sea of glowing cell phone screens that appeared in the crowd, the kids were having a ball. A Boston- based quartet touring in support of its self-titled debut album, Boys Like Girls dished out a buoyant, snappy set of cookie- cutter pop-punk tunes, with the exception of the aforementioned ballad, “Holiday.” And while they weren’t lacking in energy — especially drummer John Keefe, who was throwing monster fills all over the place — they couldn’t compete with the tweens, teens and “cool” moms, whose ear-shattering shrieks marked the beginning and ending of practically every song.

But the shrieking didn’t begin (or end) there. The “hosts” of the evening, the Backstreet Boys, kicked off the evening, and the rambunctious cheering they received proved that while they may be dead, they’re certainly not forgotten. Brian, A.J. and Nick appeared in different parts of the arena throughout the evening to make important announcements, like which section had just won free food from McDonald’s.

After the first Backstreet interlude came Good Charlotte, a five-piece group that should be credited for having more staying power than your average Sum 41. Their set gave a few clues as to why they’re still hit-makers.

Far from just antiseptic second-generation Green Day, Good Charlotte’s performance featured elements of power pop, Goth rock and glam. Sure, a pseudo-rap by lead singer Joel Madden was ill advised, but at least he tried to mix it up. Not exactly a Kissmas miracle, but close.

After another riveting Backstreet Boys moment, where they rubbed their Backstreet “Backsides” on a Kiss 98.5 DJ, teen sensation Sean Kingston took the stage. Despite a muddied soundboard mix, which left his lyrics mostly unintelligible, the Miami-born, Jamaica-bred singer’s blend of lite rap, reggae and R&B was undeniably charming.

The beats were soulful and sunny, and Kingston’s energy was tough to dislike. While the between-song banter needed rehearsing — at one point, the singer just pointed to random areas of the arena, saying “I see some girls over there” — his set was the most refreshing and entertaining of the evening.

Speaking of ending it all, the Backstreet Boys followed Kingston by trying to get the crowd to sing “Frosty the Snowman” with them. Needless to say, when Simple Plan subsequently hit the stage and opened with their song “Addicted,” the response was better.

Like most bands of their mainstream punk stock, this Montreal quintet performs with confidence and conviction, and has nothing new to offer musically. But after three hours of the Kissmas Bash, Simple Plan’s sheer exuberance was a needed kick in the pants.

The night’s final set was reserved for Hinder, an Oklahoma City band that has been flying high, thanks to one of the most ham-handed power ballads in recent memory, “Lips of an Angel.”

Unfortunately, the five-piece band’s performance possessed no more substance than its hit single. A melange of recycled grunge riffs and a thoroughly unconvincing hair metal shtick, Hinder makes the most recent wave of derivative alt-rock, like Creed and Nickelback, seem almost innovative.

While the songs aren’t breathtaking, the band’s real weakness is singer Austin Winkler. The guy was clearly trying to channel the elastic pipes of his idols — Axl Rose, Steven Tyler, etc. — but he just couldn’t do it. Even his rock-star scream sounded weak, and as anybody at last night’s show could attest, a healthy scream is the true meaning of Kissmas.

Any old dump like me is going to complain a little about this show, especially with all the shrieking, but we can’t forget that the Kissmas Bash lets thousands of young people have fun listening to live music.

Like it or not, loving Good Charlotte is still art appreciation.

What was truly annoying about the event was what happened between performances.

As soon as the last song of each set ended, two screens on either side of the stage began playing TV commercials and music videos of Kissmas Bash artists.

Immediately after Boys Like Girls finished their last song, “The Great Escape,” the screens started playing the video for it. Something just felt wrong about that.

But then again, my idea of a good time is falling asleep while trying to finish a movie.

Appeared in the December 12, 2007, issue of The Buffalo News.