On Thursday night Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers made his New York debut as a solo act at the Beacon Theater for around 2,000 shrieking young girls (and a couple of boys) and their chaperones. On Saturday afternoon, in the basement of Cake Shop on the Lower East Side, the all-girl Brooklyn kid-punk outfit Care Bears on Fire hosted a showcase of teen bands for an audience of a couple hundred: plaid-wearing peers, small children, parents scarfing down sandwiches and salads.
Not as different as they sound, really.
Scale isn’t much of a measure of talent or maturity, of course, or even of intentions. Exclude the size of the room, and the two shows looked alike: teenage performers eager to flaunt their bona fides and their taste, exactly the things that probably set them apart from their classmates, but not, it turns out, from one another.
These are also the things that have separated Nick Jonas from his brothers Kevin and Joe over the four-plus years in which the Jonas Brothers have been marching toward pop supremacy. Even as success took them beyond the world of Disney, the Jonas Brothers never felt sophisticated; of the three Nick came closest, with his sharp, forward fashion choices and name dropping of influences like Elvis Costello.
The primary aim of his solo debut, “Who I Am” (Hollywood), which is to be released next month under the name Nick Jonas & the Administration, appears to be re-education. A couple of songs revisit Jonas Brothers bop, but Mr. Jonas, 17, is more interested in reclaiming 1970s rock, a relatively unfashionable choice that will force fans to accept him on different terms.
“Who I Am” is reminiscent of Justin Timberlake’s first post-’N Sync solo album, “Justified”: eager to toy with new influences, far from perfect. Mr. Jonas’s plays for credibility are naked. Three of his four touring band members did stints with Prince’s New Power Generation. The song “State of Emergency” is a virtual rewrite of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” “Olive & an Arrow,” a blues-rock number, recalls John Mayer.
At Thursday’s show he attracted a discerning, self-selecting subset of Jonas Brothers fans, drawn to his shy charm, perhaps, over Joe’s puckish flamboyance and Kevin’s, um, positive attitude? They were older too: many seemed to be in the upper reaches of teenagedom, taking style cues from “Gossip Girl,” and only a few wore hand-scrawled T-shirts of the kind ubiquitous at Jonas Brothers concerts. A handful were sipping Bud Lights by the lobby bar before the show.
They were rabid for Mr. Jonas, who seemed completely comfortable without his brothers, fitting in easily with his startlingly good band. It helped that he was in top form, far more convincing than on his album, but it didn’t matter: almost everything he did met with adulation. (Though his New Year’s resolutions — “As a country we’re in a place of fear, and we need to put that behind us” — provoked confused murmurs, and his cover of Mr. Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours,” was appreciated more by the adults in the crowd.)
Charmed though it may seem, the path that Mr. Jonas has chosen is not the easy one. He’s savvy enough, though, to know he needs to shift gears. Soon he won’t be a teenager anymore — a conundrum also faced by his friend Taylor Swift, who turned 20 last month, effectively aging out of her old material — and the slate gets wiped clean.
By and large the bands that played at Cake Shop on Saturday afternoon as part of the Let Them Eat Cake showcase have chosen to skip right past the potential crisis of growing out of their sound by making music most adults would be proud of.
Mr. Jonas might find he has much in common with Ethan Levenson, 15, who opened his Cake Shop set with a cover of Girls’ “Lust for Life,” one of last year’s hipster anthems, obscuring the profanity slightly, but not completely. Mr. Levenson, who wore a loose gray cardigan and whose songs were filled with mopey inner-life-centric lyrics, might not want to talk to Mr. Jonas, though they probably have similar record collections.
Mr. Levenson was the only boy on the bill, save for two members of Blame the Patient, the third band on the lineup, effective miners of late-’80s and early-’90s indie rock with a ferocious lead guitarist, Hunter Lombard, and a kinetic lead singer, Sofie Kapur.
Last year Blame the Patient recorded an as-yet-unreleased album produced by Kevin March, drummer of the well-regarded post-hardcore band Shudder to Think. On the Let Them Eat Cake circuit such high-profile — in the indie rock world at least — hand holders are the norm. On its recent album “Get Over It!” (S-Curve), Care Bears on Fire worked with Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and Jill Cunniff, late of Luscious Jackson, among others.
At 16, Rachel Trachtenburg of Supercute!, who opened the showcase with a set of tidy, clever bubblegum pop, is already a veteran thanks to her years with the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. One song played by Supercute!, “Not to Write About Boys,” was incisive and cynical about inter-band relations: two group members fall for the same guy, then realize it’s tearing the group apart, and sacrifice the guy for the sake of friendship. For kids, it’s dark stuff.
And polished too: Supercute! has pop instincts as finely honed as Mr. Jonas’s. The same goes for Care Bears on Fire, who straddle the mainstream and D.I.Y. worlds, proving that they’re not that far apart. The group was signed to S-Curve by Steve Greenberg, who, as president of Columbia Records, signed the Jonas Brothers to their first major-label deal. Over the summer Care Bears on Fire toured with Nat & Alex Wolff, of the Nickelodeon series “The Naked Brothers Band,” and in November, Care Bears on Fire appeared on another Nickelodeon show, “True Jackson, VP,” in which the group subbed in for a gig blown off by Justin Bieber: not exactly the punk rock episode of “Quincy, M.E.,” but something.
More immediately the group recalls the Runaways, who were a teen punk band when that was still a dangerous idea. The members of Care Bears on Fire — Izzy, Sophie and Jena — are younger, and not nearly as salacious as the Runaways, but they have a similar verve. Their music is accomplished, tackling kid subjects in a mature way, with furiously energetic playing, especially on the part of the drummer, Izzy, who on Saturday was sporting a torn Patti Smith T-shirt.
The songs were cheerily scornful, thanks to Sophie, the guitarist and lead singer. And the band’s cover of Tears for Fears’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” was smart, comprehending that its lyrics were always far brattier than its arrangement. At the end of the show the punk pioneer Handsome Dick Manitoba went backstage and gave all the girls hugs.