BACKSTREET BOYS at the Molson Amphitheatre, Wednesday, August 7. Rating: NNN
The ladies still love Nick Carter. Shrieks, ear-piercing shrieks every time he sang a solo or made a move for the front of the stage, which jutted out in at T-shape onto the standing-room floor. And that was nothing compared to what happened when his image flashed onto the giant screen which made up the back of the tiered set-up, or, good heavens, he opened his mouth to speak.
The Molson Amphitheatre was at capacity for the Backstreet Boys, full of 20- to 30-year-old women – bright-eyed and dressed like they were going on a first date or starring in an E-harmony commercial – losing their shit for Nick, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean, Kevin Richardson and Howie Dorough, who soldiered into view as a synchronized five-piece at 9:20 pm in matching, slim-fit suits for a nostalgic one hour and 40 minutes of boybandom.
But boy band is a misnomer. The Backstreet Boys are a singing group, and sing live they did, through a slew of greatest hits from their first four albums and the better songs from their eighth, In A World Like This, currently number two in Canada. Occasionally it was pitchy, and it wasn’t exactly effortless, but the troupe was solid – Brian and AJ particularly, who have always done the band’s vocal heavy lifting.
Nick got as many solos as he did because in his day he was a teen heartthrob of Bieberian proportion, but his voice is the male equivalent of Britney Spears’s (no disrespect to Brit). AJ is the obvious show-master now, and though it isn’t perfect, his deep rasp – the most soulful in the group – was ever-present Wednesday night, alongside his big personality. “It’s a good thing I’m married,” he said, “cause I’d be getting into so much trouble in Toronto.”
From the moment they marched out, high-kneed and soldier-like for opener The Call, the BSB proved they’re still good dancers, and have a smart enough choreographer to leave their best routines alone (As Long As You Love Me), but also infuse them with some new moves. Brian especially has rhythm, almost b-boying at one point.
They’ve been together 20 years, as Kevin reminded us (easy for you to say, Kev – ahem, seven year absence), and their banter and mannerisms often seemed like they were on auto-pilot. It’s not that they’re faking it – they’re genuinely grateful and appreciative, for sure. It’s just that two decades of corny winking and making heart shapes and little waves to ladies in the audience will do that to you – they’ve become boy band machines.
Sometimes Kevin would be crouching down, crooning so earnestly into a fan’s digital camera, I wondered if he remembered that this was 2013, not the 1995 video shoot for I’ll Never Break Your Heart.
But a rallying cry of “Are you ready to party like it’s 1999?” as well as AJ’s “RUN BSB” T-shirt hinted they do actually know their place in music’s fickle pop world.
Musically, they had no help from a backing band. Occasionally they helped themselves – Kevin on keys, Brian and Nick on guitar or Howie on acoustic bass – but this seemed ornamental, an effort to show that they’re more than just singing heads.
They had three age-appropriate wardrobes and, thankfully, kept their clothes on with each. Nary an ab in sight. The most scandalous anyone got was Nick shrugging his overshirt to reveal all of one tattooed shoulder. Oh, the screams.
Right before their final change, they brought a bunch of presumably VIP-package-buyers onstage for an intimate mini-set. Because the BSB did not awkwardly serenade any of them but, rather, remained perched on stools facing the audience, this worked for an cappella version of Safest Place To Hide and acoustic performances of 10,000 Promises and Madeleine, a song they wrote on their current album dedicated to victims of gay bullying.
Their biggest mistake was performing Quit Playing Games (With My Heart) this way. If we can’t have the torrential downpour and agonized camera reaching from the video, at least give us some beats and a dance routine.
Other than that misstep, there really were no dips in momentum. The third act was their best, as they barreled toward the finale with The One, In A World Like This, an unfortunately sound-glitchy, off-key I Want It That Way and Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) complete with signature zombie moves.
Larger Than Life was a sorry choice for an encore – as far as BSB singles go, it was positively middling – but there weren’t many other options by the end (except Get Down, which, maybe, they can’t sing with a shred of self-respect anymore).
But, said Howie, they’ll be around for 20 years still. So, there will be other opportunities. Oh, and a Backstreet Boys movie, they revealed, is pending. More screams.