If you were out to have a good time with friends on Independence Day, you could have done a lot worse than grabbing a patch of lawn for the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular at the DCR Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade. Blessed by gorgeous weather, the event packed ample excitement, good music, and of course those brilliant fireworks at the end. It all ran like clockwork, more or less. The presenters — not least David Mugar, whose dedication and beneficence have provided this event 43 times, this one his last — have a lot to be proud of.
All of which said, as a show it was kind of a muddle. A pinch of this and a dab of that, little having much to do with America, independence, patriotism, or even conductor Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, who spent too much of the evening relegated to backing-band status.
Probably the last thing anyone wants to read is a tirade about vision — and again, there was a lot to like about this year’s show, which brought of-the-moment star power with pop singers Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato, old friends touring together this summer (and playing TD Garden on July 20), and Little Big Town, the popular and critically acclaimed country-pop quartet. But the concert felt like a patchwork of mixed objectives and compromises.
Lovato, a chief draw for a sizable, squealing contingent among the hundreds of thousands of audience members assembled, oozed style every time she strutted onstage to deliver one of her hits: “Stone Cold,” “Cool for the Summer,” “Confident.” Her cover of “Purple Rain,” dedicated to Prince’s memory and performed awash in violet light, was the show’s most powerfully moving moment.
Jonas crooned the Eagles’ “Desperado” earnestly, if not especially compellingly, but was in his element with his own R&B-juiced pop. He elicited shrieks with “Chains,” showed a chemistry with Lovato in “Close” that was missing in an earlier soggy, distended duet on “America the Beautiful”; and delivered part of “Jealous” on the lawn among giddy fans.
Little Big Town was charismatic and snappy in “Pavement Ends,” “Little White Church,” “Pontoon,” and “Boondocks.” And the band provided two of the show’s highlights: “Girl Crush,” plush and melancholy; and “Miracle,” full-blown dance pop from the band’s new Pharrell Williams-helmed LP “Wanderlust,” fortified with gospel choir, swishy disco strings, and emphatic low brass.
The lockstep alternation of hit songs and awkward pauses for commercial breaks carried a whiff of product placement. Still, now and then you’d catch something real and special. As Lovato stood on a darkened stage at one point, waiting for the broadcast to resume, you could see through the gloom how moved she was when audience members began chanting her name. And when Angelo Tilas, caretaker of the Hatch Shell since 1984 and set to retire later this year, was granted his wish of an onstage conducting debut, the orchestra played its collective heart out for him.
BOSTON POPS FIREWORKS SPECTACULAR
With Nick Jonas, Demi Lovato, and Little Big Town. At the DCR Hatch Shell, Charles River Esplanande, July 4