How do you distinguish the new solo music of Nick Jonas from his body of work with his older siblings as the Jonas Brothers?
It was hard to tell above the insane, incessant caterwauling of his young female fans at the first of two sold-out shows at the Tower Theater this weekend.
The girls started screeching as soon as the prefatory theme from Rocky began blaring from the sound system. They did not let up until two minutes after Jonas' second encore, the title track from his debut solo album, Who I Am, scheduled for release Feb. 2.
He delivered the entire album Saturday night, plus a sprinkling of Jonas Brothers songs and a few covers. From what one could hear above the shrill maelstrom, it sure sounded funky.
Jonas, 17, is apparently following the path blazed by Justin Timberlake: from boy band to soul man. He got off to a rousing start with a brace of new songs - "Rose Garden" and "State of Emergency" - that established his rock/R&B intentions.
He was helped immeasurably in his funked-up aspirations by his backup band, credited as the Administration. It comprised drummer Michael Bland, guitarist Sonny Thompson, and keyboardist Tommy Barbarella, who set up a taut, barbed wire perimeter around all the material.
The trio all played with Prince, and you could hear echoes of His Purple Nibs in many of the arrangements.
At one point, Jonas, in a jaunty porkpie hat topped off with a red feather, also evoked John Mayer, both vocally and melodically, on the bluesy "Olive and an Arrow."
He displayed a pleasant voice with a mature feel for phrasing on the songs within his range, and even showed off a serviceable falsetto. But he lacked the vocal muscle to pull off a cover of the vintage "I Just Want to Celebrate" by Rare Earth.
He didn't have to sing at all for long stretches of the Jonas Brothers compositions because the fans were belting out the lyrics in unison.
The night was more revival meeting than rock concert - and the Church of Nick is very loud. When the singer peeled down to a tighty-whitey T-shirt late in the show, it felt as if Upper Darby was teetering on a seismic fault line.
The crowd was remarkably patient with the opening act, Diane Birch (like Nick, child of a preacher). She rolled out a set of punchy, perky pop-rock that recalled Fleetwood Mac in its glory days. Birch is a good songwriter and an assured performer. Throw in a couple of female backup singers and she would be an act to be reckoned with.
The frenzied audience, which included many overcome weepers, was polite enough to hold off on its chant of "We want Nick" while Birch was onstage. But you could tell that's what it was thinking.