Live: Still Swooning Over The Backstreet Boys (Well, Most Of Them, Anyway) At Hammerstein Ballroom
The ear-splitting shrieks started about a half-hour before the Backstreet Boys took the stage at Hammerstein Ballroom last night. Hundreds and hundreds of girls squealed every time the lights blinked, curtains moved, or one of their peers screamed, "Nick, we love you!" over the dull roar. The boys (ahem... men) have retained their fan base through the past 17 (!) years and several tarnishes to their adorable, boys-next-door image -- Nick's philandering and unfortunate reality-TV show, AJ's stint in rehab, and (even worse!) Kevin's leaving the band a few years back. Through it all, one thing is certain: As the group gets older, their fans stay the same age. At least the Boys have a good sense of humor about it all.
It was only right that the group opened the sold-out show with "Everybody" (i.e. "Backstreet's Back"), though the audience's sing-a-long drowned out the mics. There's no getting around it -- their huge arsenal of chart-topping hits makes them the biggest boy-band in the world (take that, *NSYNC!), and last night proved that singing along to "Quit Playing Games" and "As Long as You Love Me" is still second nature to those of us who fawned over these pop darlings in our youth. In fact, trying to keep composed ("Act cool, act cool," one girl chanted to herself) was a feat -- especially when the girl next to you begins bawling at the intro chords to every single song. Though I can't blame her: The ten-year-old me was dying to break free, too.
Their age shows, barely, if only through their costume choices. At one point Howie rocked a red-velvet blazer paired with a glittery silver scarf, Brian donned a wide-brim fedora paired with a tucked-in button-down and suspenders, AJ did his usual paint-splattered denim, and Nick's pelvic thrusts were rendered even creepier by his Nike-parody shirt that read, "Just Did It!" Not to mention their matching hoodies emblazoned with a gigantic, glittering "B." But the hits continued -- "Shape of My Heart", "Show Me the Meaning (of Being Lonely)," "The Call" -- with skits at 30-minute intervals.
Yes, the skits. Each was a parody of a popular movie with a band member edited in -- there's pretty much nothing more endearing than superstars making fun of themselves. In a The Fast and the Furious parody, Howie wins a race against Vin Diesel and looks directly into the camera for a deadpan "Backstreet's Back." In the Fight Club spoof (Fan Club), AJ shouts the rules to a rowdy crowd: "Rule #2: Only two guys can sing at a time. Rule #3: Songs go as long as they have to." Brian croons as the too-sappy, romantically charged prince in Enchanted, and Nick channels Neo in The Matrix: "Has it really been ten years since I was one of the most beautiful people in the world?"
Nick's boyish charm was lost on us, though, and not just because he's 30. (Also, the sequin-accented white blazer had nothing to do it.) The man has as much stage presence as a cruise director: Where his pelvic thrusts and other suggestive dance moves once gave tweens everywhere butterflies and dreams of puberty, now we're getting a lot less "sex appeal" and a lot more "sexual predator." Is manhandling the set's prop joystick really necessary? We are not 13 anymore, and neither are you.
As for the group's new tracks (from the new-ish album This Is Us), we were a little less thrilled, though the rest of the audience seemed to be die-hard for it all. To be completely honest, "This Is Us" and "Straight Through the Heart" are bangers live. On record, we like them less, if only because the cheesy '90s boy-band-style chorus stands out a little awkwardly without the off-tune BSB fan next to you to balance it out. Who cares though: "Larger Than Life" and "The One" will live on forever. Good lord, do I love the Backstreet Boys.