Stars deliver solid performances at iHeartRadio Music Festival

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iHeartRadio, P!nk

Courtesy: iHeartRadio

LAS VEGAS — T-Mobile Arena came alive Friday night with the sounds of music superstars, old and new. The iHeartRadio Music Festival kicked off two nights of shows in Sin City to a sold-out crowd. Hosted by Ryan Seacrest, the simulcast show promised guest stars, new collaborations and lots of surprises. As the night progressed, some of the acts did a better job of making good on that promise than others.

A short warm-up set by newcomer and Macy’s Rising Star winner James Maslow (who starred in Nickelodeon’s Big Time Rush beginning in 2009) started the show as the crowd continued to fill in.

P!nk hit the stage next with a tight and energetic set that showcased her powerhouse vocals. Comfortable and in command, she tore through “Raise Your Glass,” followed by her new single “What About Us” and a mashup of Gwen Stefani covers.

After a brief pause, she returned sporting a circular harness and finished with a rowdy rendition of “So What.” Delivering the line, “I wanna start a fight,” she flew through the arena, tumbling end over end. Even in a town with no shortage of spectacle, the crowd was on their feet and reaching for smart phones to nab a shot.

Stopping to perch on a few strategically placed pillars, P!nk’s vocals showed no signs of suffering. Some acts blame dance routines for their reliance on lip-syncing and backing tracks. But this was live, raw and evidence of a performer in her prime.

Next, former One Direction member Harry Styles delivered a gutsy set. Dressed in his signature suit-made-of-curtains style and backed by an impressive band, Styles did much to leave his boy band days behind him. From the punk-leaning “Kiwi” to the anthemic “Sign of the Times,” Styles proved he’s one to watch and more than worthy of holding his own as a solo artist. Bat For Lashes drummer Sarah Jones gave one of the most visceral performances of the night during Styles’ set, both behind the kit and on backup vocals.

Coldplay then treated the crowd to a mini version of its stadium show with LED wristbands, confetti cannons and synchronized lights and animations. The band started with “Sky Full of Stars” and “Hymn for the Weekend.” If there was anything to quibble about, it was that the set ran two songs (and nearly 20 minutes) longer than anyone else’s and ended with the relatively down-tempo “Up and Up.”

In contrast with the previous set, country star Chris Stapleton had a stripped-down, three-piece band, one backup singer and no stage gimmicks (unless you count the giant “CS” sign that shone like an electronic belt buckle above the stage). But his raspy tenor voice and tasty guitar playing cut through and connected with the arena crowd through renditions of “Might As Well Get Stoned” and “Nobody to Blame.” The obligatory hit, “Broken Halos,” and “Second One to Know” were followed by his more-famous-than-the-original cover of David Allen Coe’s “Tennessee Whiskey” to close out the set. Stapleton’s choices and confident, rootsy delivery were a reminder that strong songwriting and musicianship can still rule the day.

Thirty Seconds to Mars showed up with a gospel choir and kicked off its set with a medley of songs from artists we’ve recently lost. “Purple Rain” blended into David Bowie’s “Heroes” as the choir swelled and the band paid tribute. Dressed in a meme-friendly and ironic rainbow sweater, frontman Jared Leto did his best to give the crowd a show to write home about. Jumping off the stage and winding through the crowd, he sang most of “Kings and Queens” from the arena floor and led an extended sing-along. The highlight of the set was the band’s latest, “Walk on Water,” which features crisp writing and the most catchy hook the band has offered in years.

The Weeknd effectively closed out the night with a set that had the crowd on their feet and bouncing up and down. The Canadian R&B phenom showcased his laser-like vocals through a six-song set, backed by a tight three-piece. “Starboy,” “Party Monster” and “Reminder” led into the mega-hits “Secrets/Can’t Feel My Face,” “I Feel It Coming” and “The Hills.”

Follow Rick Starbuck at Twitter.com/rickstarbuck.

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