At GM Place on Saturday, September 3
It can't be easy being an aging Backstreet Boy, but the band's Never Gone album is a clear statement of intent. Backstreet's back, indeed. The new single "Just Want You to Know" was aired late into a two-hour slam at GM Place, which unfolded as a sort of retrospective, complete with video breaks and attendant costume changes. "Just Want You to Know" stands out, however, either as an acknowledgment of the group's senescent demographic or an act of desperation. It's a guitar-driven number with an admittedly funny video that goofs on Heavy Metal Parking Lot, in which the boys appear as a hair-metal band called Sphynkter.
If this is meant to reflect their graduation from infantile pop-the video also features gratuitous puking and boobs-it nonetheless provides for the jarring spectacle of a new wave of barely pubescent girls milling around GM Place in homemade Sphynkter T-shirts. Elsewhere, one long-time fan was holding a sign that read "I'm legal now!", but the most shocking indication of the act's longevity came when its baggage was spilled all over the stage by an unruly Nick Carter-now the officially crazy Backstreet Boy-who deviated from the script during a nutty bit of theatre and called A J McLean a "mofo". McLean nervously responded by trying to smooth over the group's recent cabinet shuffle. Just to remind readers: McLean is supposed to be the bad ass, in the tradition of the Monkees' Mike Nesmith, who some of us will remember removed his wool hat in a shocking act of defiance back in 1967. Moving forward, the New Kids on the Block continued the tradition with the generally stinky-looking Donnie Wahlberg, and then McLean really embraced the role with bouts of alcoholism and satanic facial hair. In the ensuing years, however, the angelic Carter broke ranks and set out in earnest to replace his puppy fat with beer fat-he's the one currently on release from rehab.
In all other ways, the Boys seem to play down their personalities. If it isn't obvious from the depressingly pristine harmonies, the Backstreet Boys are really about assimilation. Brian Littrell is permitted a very small amount of character as the de facto leader, but Christ knows what Howie Dorough and Kevin Richardson do-aside from looking kind of like Jerry Seinfeld and Kevin Pollack. The Nuremberg-like emergence of the group as it descends an illuminated staircase is plenty impressive, but it renders the actual performance a little anticlimactic. The Backstreet Band let rip a couple of times, notably during the genuinely thrilling climax of "I Still…", the minimalist Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis funk of "My Beautiful Woman", and, best of all, "As Long as You Love Me"-reworked into something resembling Philly soul, if the Stylistics had been fronted by five Fred Willards.
The night was opened by Kaci Brown, who is a teenage automaton; flashbulbs would doubtless have sent her into a killing frenzy, if anybody had been sufficiently interested to take her picture during the 30-minute set, which included the evening's one Ashlee Simpson snafu. (Nobody seemed to notice.) She was followed by the Click 5, a power-pop five-piece in matching black suits and Beatles haircuts. Their current single, "Just the Girl", is a rewrite of Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom". It's great. If this is what the evil overlords of tweenie pop have in store for us next, it's okay with me.