If radio station Mix 98.5 plans on fleeing north after the upcoming election, Boston can't say it hasn't been warned. With Bryan Adams, Sarah McLachlan and Finger Eleven, Saturday's MixFest at the
Opening the show with John Mayer-lite adult-contemporary pop, Lexington's Matt Nathanson was loose and genial, maybe even too much for someone with only 20 minutes. An audience member inadvertently summed up Finger Eleven's rote post-grunge hard rock by telling a friend, "I'm hoping they play whatchamacallit." They did, showing a hint of self-awareness by turning "Paralyzer" into a medley acknowledging its obvious debts to Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" and Led Zeppelin's "Trampled Under Foot."
Jordin Sparks was an Idol still looking for her artistic voice. With "Permanent Monday," she delivered a dramatic ballad that recalled both Kelly Clarkson and prime Elton John, even getting the guitar right. But the self-image hurrah "God Loves Ugly" was mawkish enough to counteract it, and her cover of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" was spirited but superfluous.
McLachlan's unaccompanied set was admirable but seemed like the wrong performance on the wrong day. With her warm soprano and mournfully romantic material, she clashed with a chatty audience on a sunny Saturday afternoon, to the point where it was hard to say what the new "U Want Me 2" sounded like. (A guess: confessional piano ballad.) She was cheered regardless, even when a raffle winner more or less ruined his duet on "Ice Cream" when it became clear that he didn't know the words.
Headliner Bryan Adams didn't quite live up to his reputation (ironic or not) as the Canadian Bruce Springsteen; the Boss would never write anything as silly as "The Only Thing That Looks Good on Me Is You" ("Pink Cadillac" notwithstanding). But he just might be the Northern Bon Jovi, fueled by a dutiful populism and a deep catalog that makes up in nostalgia what it lacks in genuine substance.
Adams cranked out so many hits that once "Summer of '69," "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You," "Cuts Like a Knife," and eternal prom theme "Heaven" had come and gone with a half hour still to go, it was hard to know what might be left. The audience must have wondered as well, since the Pavilion started slowly thinning out. But with his rasp insulating his voice from the ravages of age and his songs' still-anthemic kick, Adams sounded forever youthful, if not exactly timeless.