Review by Andrew Parker
Photography by Rodney Gitzel
The backing band took the stage amid an introduction which belongs in the annals of Teen Beat history: giant screens flanking the stage projected photos of each Backstreet Boy, from infancy through pimply moments to their final, airbrushed, hunky present. In terms of drama, I could almost sense the tingling in all the young stretch-pants in attendance, not to mention in my ears, which continued to be beaten to a pulp.
Then, beneath an astonishing flood of lights, the Boys appeared, modeling a flight-suit look which was conducive to the gyrating choreography of all Backstreet songs. Judging from the squeals of delight, I may have been the sole person who found the dance moves a tad wooden, and even badly executed. But the girls were eating it up, so, what the hell, I let myself get swept up into the "Let's Get a Party Goin' On" mentality. Like a piece of fake fruit gum, the high kick moves were something to chew on until the starbursts ended, then spit out -- or stick under a chair.
One successful, yet confusing, strategy of the Boys consisted of compressing four-minute hits into ninety-second samplers. Instead of giving songs like "You're the One for Me" a full run through, the Backstreet Boys fired off a sample taste, then shifted into another equally high-energy number. Even for someone familiar with their material from their CD, the show was at times puzzling and certainly choppy. At any rate, choosing this approach guaranteed the group repeated applause for the cuts which have brought them the most success.
(It's interesting to consider the Boys in light of the current acclaim for DJ/sampled music. Young audiences are equipped with an ability to process layered, hybridized music incorporating familiar grooves and spontaneous sounds. Undoubtedly, the Backstreet Boys are still worlds away from DJ Shadow; nevertheless, the subtle influences of turntable culture on the Boys' music will undeniably affect the musical education of their young fans.)
Providing the bulk of the music for the Boys were two keyboardists, a bassist, a guitarist and a drummer (who boasted a kit rivaling that of Rush's Neil Peart). Naturally, the spotlights on the Boys rendered the band almost invisible, but the funky bursts and colourful flourishes of these back-up players registered their presence. Terribly clichéd, in my opinion, was the requisite introduction and fifteen-second solo allotted to each musician. However, for an audience with as little frame of reference as this one, a rushed, noodling solo was a great thrill.
In the final moments of the show, Orca Bay's epitomized pairing of sports and entertainment marketing was unveiled, as the Boys emerged wearing Grizzlies tank-tops, all emblazoned with 'Big Country' on the back. Later they completed the corporate coup de grace by strutting the length of the stage in full Tommy Hilfiger ski suits. The combined effect of the lights, the Boys' elaborate posturing and the electricity in the arena was impressive, yet the label-consciousness of it all stuck awkwardly in my craw. Imagining the kiddie cries for 'Tommy' clothes the following day was sad, sobering and somehow pathetic.
The Backstreet Boys at GM Place...what can I say? It was everything I expected, yet could not conceive of until I was there, including thousands of shrill, screaming girls, as immediate and fickle as the bobby soxers of the 1950's variety shows. Sure, the Boys have some definite talent, and on this night they trotted it out for over two hours. But, more importantly, these guys know what moves to use, what order to deliver them in and how often to repeat the danciest, sexiest, most training bra-stretching highlights.
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