HOLLYWOOD — "Let's break our house!"
Kevin Jonas was swinging a guitar — threatening to smash it — behind the facade of a Brooklyn brownstone. He and his brothers Joe and Nick (you might know them as the Jonas Brothers) were supposed to sit on a stoop and sing their song "Lovebug." But they had lots of other bugs they need to work out on Saturday before they could play the song Sunday night (September 7) at the Video Music Awards. Hence, the trouble-shooting rehearsal.
"Joe didn't know he was going to have to be getting out of a taxi," stage manager Steve Burges said, "so we had to work out the timing for Joe getting out of the taxi and still being in place in time to start the song. It's easy to get out of a taxi in real life, but it's difficult to make it look good on camera."
An improbably spotless New York yellow cab was set to pull up to the Brooklyn stoop where Kevin and Nick were already sitting, strumming their guitars.
"The idea is that we're on a backlot where you can feel like you're right there in New York City," band manager Johnny Wright explained. "And then something happens where it becomes a whole different element of what the performance is."
"It doesn't look like a New York City cab, does it?" Burges laughed.
"I've never seen a taxi cab that clean in New York!" Rob Brenner, the band's touring director, said.
"We might have to do something about that," Burges added. "Put some graffiti on it or something."
Joe got out — and didn't pay his fare, stiffing a cabbie played by Leland White, an actor who doubles as a bouncer in T.I.'s performance around the block. "I'm not a fan [of the Jonas Brothers]," White admitted, but it's not because his cabbie character isn't paid — after all, there's no meter. "You think Joe can't afford a cab?" Burges asked. "I think he probably can."
It took several tries for Joe to get out of the cab just right and join his brothers, as the taxi drove away, leaking water from its tailpipe. Nick sang the bridge, Joe sang the chorus, and Kevin and Nick played acoustic guitar as Joe played tambourine. Kevin tried a few different moves — slapping his knee in time, snapping, clapping along — until he found the right mix. In between takes, he asked his brothers for advice: "Do you think I should move more to the left?"
Every so often, a director, stage manager, band manager or even their dad walked over to give them some direction. A lot of little things needed fixing, such as wireless frequencies. At one point, a fire alarm went off, but since it matched the beat of the song, people didn't realize at first. The Jonas Brothers fans in the crowd were getting a little too excited and had to be told to calm down — a lot. Joe was having issues with his wireless mic pack, which needed to be swapped out. Kevin was having issues with his guitar strap. And Nick was having problems finding a guitar pick. "Can I have that one?" he asked someone. "It's my last one, sorry," he was told.
"That's always going to happen in soundcheck," Wright said. "One guitar is louder than the other, or one vocal, and that's why we do this — to get it all right. I think this is a great transitional moment in their career because they already have a young audience, but they're going to be playing to a bunch of people who might not know who they are or haven't checked them out in a live situation, and this will make them understand and appreciate who the Jonas Brothers are. And one of the key things that will come across is that they're not puppets. There are no finger-synching instruments. There's no track. Everything is live."
"The music's real," Brenner said. "The taxi's fake."
The VMAs are tonight! Tune in at 8 p.m. ET for MTV News' It's a wrap! Now that the 2008 VMAs have come and gone, check out all the winners, the most surprising moments, the best red-carpet fashions and more at VMA.MTV.com.