Look, Ma, I can fly: Band arrives out of the blue

Review: High-flying Backstreet Boys concert, with its costumes and choreography, gives its young audience much to look at -- and a few songs to listen to.

September 20, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

When it comes to onstage spectacle, the Backstreet Boys don't mess around.

Fireworks? Costume changes? Intricate, aerobicized choreography? The Backstreet Boys show had all that. Of course, so does almost every other big-time pop tour these days. In fact, it seems safe to say that the teen supergroup's audience anticipated at least as much eye-candy from the Boys as it sees daily on MTV.

And the anticipation was considerable -- considering that the quintet's current "Millennium Tour" (which just finished a two-night stand in Washington) sold out its entire 11-week run in little more than an hour. But the Backstreet Boys offered an extravaganza that went well beyond the normal standards for arena concert razzle-dazzle.

For instance, when the five hunky teen idols finally hit the pentagonal stage set in the middle of the MCI Arena Saturday night, they didn't just walk out like normal mortals. No, they "flew" in, hanging from guy wires that made it look as if they were soaring over the fans on rocket-powered snowboards.

Nor was that the evening's only bit of aerial acrobatics. Midway through their performance of "Quit Playing Games with My Heart," the Backstreeters were hooked into harnesses and hoisted out over the crowd, where they swooped, sang, dangled upside-down and tossed stuffed animals to the audience below.

Needless to say, this sort of thing went over like gangbusters with the mostly young, mostly female, mostly shrieking fans, who had been hoisting signs ("Brian and Nick Marry Me!") and chanting "Back! Street! Boys!" for the better part of an hour before the objects of their affection flew in. Given this level of adoration, the Backstreet Boys would have to have been unimaginably bad to have disappointed the fans.

The Backstreeters weren't bad. In fact, apart from a couple awkward moments in "No One Else Comes Close" where the Boys had trouble with the song's difficult harmonies, the performance was pretty close to perfect.

Upbeat numbers like "Larger Than Life" and "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" were presented with verve and precision, maintaining rhythmic momentum without sacrificing the melody. Ballads like "Spanish Eyes" and "I Want It That Way" were served up with passion and care, with the lead voices soaring soulfully -- particularly those of Nick Carter and Alexander James "A.J." McLean -- as the others made the most of the lustrous harmonies. For the most part, the songs were as smooth as on CD.

As good as the performance was, however, there wasn't really enough of it to justify a two-hour stage show. That shouldn't come as a surprise, seeing as the entire Backstreet CD catalog clocks in at just under one hour, 45 minutes.

The group didn't even attempt to do all its songs. Instead, it simply milked each number for all it was worth, and relied on stunts, spectacle and its crack backing band to fill the rest of the time. To keep the groove going during "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," for example, the band vamped at length while the Boys and their 10 dancers (five male, five female) delivered a choreographed "dance battle" that would be best described as break-dancing-meets-"West Side Story."

Some of the padding did add to the audience's appreciation of their idols, as when Kevin Richardson sat at a white grand piano (which had flown down from the ceiling) to offer a Kenny G-style duet with the band's soprano saxophonist. It was also touching to see the group take a moment to introduce five local fans and the girls' moms onstage before launching into Brian Littrel's mother-appreciation number, "The Perfect Fan."

However, other moments, like the band's brief jog through the jazz standard "Killer Joe" before "Spanish Eyes," were included simply to kill time while the band changed costumes.

And man, did these Boys change costume! Wearing everything from black leather to pink three-piece suits, the quintet changed its look with almost every other number. While none of their duds were as elaborate as what we're used to seeing on Janet Jackson, Madonna or Cher, the Backstreet Boys were easily those gals' equals when it came to toting up the number of outfits worn.

Still, it was all part of the show, and it gave the fans something to look -- or, more accurately, gaze adoringly -- at for two hours. If a less-smitten spectator might have thought the show would have been more exciting had it been 20 or 30 minutes shorter, the vast majority of the fans left believing they'd gotten their (parents') money's worth.

After all, they want it that way.

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