Adam Levine

Adam Levine, lead singer for the band Maroon 5, performs in the Preakness infield during the 137th running of the event. (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun / May 19, 2012)

"It looks like a big, sweaty, sexy mess of people out there," said Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine to the Preakness InfieldFEST crowd. His eyes did not deceive him.

The Los Angeles pop-rock group proved to be an excellent choice for the InfieldFEST crowd, with its handsome TV-judge frontman (Levine is on NBC's "The Voice") and earworm pop.

Throughout its 80-minute set, Maroon 5 kept reminding the large crowd how surprisingly deep its 10-year catalog runs. There were old favorites ("This Love" and "Sunday Morning") and forgotten gems ("Won't Go Home Without You" from 2007's "It Won't Be Soon Before Long"), all delivered with professional precision.

And, of course, there was synergy. Maroon 5 opened its set with "Payphone," its collaboration with the day's other A-list act, Wiz Khalifa. The song, which currently sits at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, illustrates how deftly Maroon 5 shifts with the times. "Payphone" offers everything Top 40 fans enjoy in 2012: an impossible-to-shake hook, an uptempo rap verse and a steady bass drum to keep it all moving along briskly. Maroon 5 operates best when it doesn't give the audience a chance to get bored.

Maroon 5's Preakness performance solidified its standing as one of the better, more intelligent pop acts today.Thanks in large part to Levine's falsetto croon, which was on-point throughout the set, even the band's most familiar songs fit nicely in pop's current landscape. When the band returned for its encore with "Moves Like Jagger" (the song that saved its 2010 album, "Hands All Over," from being a flop), the crowd cheered louder than it had all day.

Wiz Khalifa performed his own hourlong set earlier in the day, with a balanced mix of aggressive show-off rap and relaxed love letters to his drug of choice, marijuana. Wiz has evolved into rap's biggest hippie, thanks to his carefree attitude and apparent dedication to weed. The infield accepted Wiz's stoner persona with open arms, especially on poppier singles such as "Young, Wild and Free" and "Roll Up."

Perhaps the most telling sign Wiz had made it came during his second-to-last song, the Pittsburgh anthem "Black and Yellow." Wiz was in Ravens country, yet there he was, with the crowd in his hand, as they yelled back "Black and Yellow" with playoff intensity. When you can get a Ravens-friendly crowd to forget its allegiances, even for a quick pop song, that's saying something.

wesley.case@baltsun.com
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