Johnny No-Name Returns to Hard Rock Live
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CONCERT REVIEW By Howard Wentley
Saturday night was all right for . . .screaming! Yow! Think the boy band mania is dying down? Think again! The pre-New Year's bash on December 30th at Hard Rock Live Orlando featured AJ McLean of the Backstreet Boys doing his alter-ego shtick as Johnny No-Name. Now I have some idea what it's like at a Backstreet Boys show. The crowd doesn't just applaud, or clap, or maybe whistle or hoot when they like something—they scream. It's a particular kind of high-pitched shriek that goes right through you. If you've seen Beatles concert footage from the height of the hysteria circa-1964, or their first movie, A Hard Day's Night, you've got the idea.
It was full house for this holiday weekend show, and what a varied crowd. Quite a few family groups that had probably spent the day at Universal were in attendance. Fathers, mothers, even brothers were along for the show. Toddlers and elementary school-age kiddies were running around as though it was Saturday afternoon at Chuckie Cheese. There were gaggles of pre-teen girls in a state of giggly anticipation at the thought of seeing at least one Backstreet Boy in person. Surprisingly though, young ladies in their late teens and early twenties were there in abundance, too, dressed for attention in skin-tight revealing outfits. (It's a tough job writing up stories about Hard Rock Live shows, but someone's got to do it) A number of slightly older-looking females were also in attendance who had apparently left their husbands at home for their regular night out with the girls. Last week it was a ceramics class—this week it's a teen pop show.
The for-charity event opened with Little Jay, a pre-adolescent rapper. He delivered rhymes over backing instrumental and vocals tracks while standing alone on the stage. Sorry, I don't know what he said. He was warmly received, but he was just an appetizer. The crowd was anxious to see their idol.
Next up was Cleanser, a pop rock band. Their lineup consists of singer-songwriter Craig Rotolo on rhythm guitar, backed by lead guitar, bass guitar, drums, and, get this, a violin! The violin supplied a melodic counterpoint that definitely was the strongest part of most of their tunes. The crowd wasn't rude, but this clearly wasn't what they were here for.
Next, the curtain rose on Born into Chaos, who started their set with their backs turned to the audience. They played that way for the first 16 bars or so, then turned and confronted the crowd as they roared into the first chorus of their opening tune. The band consisted of "Red," their energetic frontman, and a guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer. They also used a DJ onstage to get the texture they were looking for. Their stuff was from the Limp Bizkit-meets-Deftones side of current rap-metal, and it went over well, especially when the singer, reading his audience well, took off his shirt. Things were getting a little frantic!
During the break after their set, a buzz ran through the balcony. "Howie D is here! It's Howie D!" Yes, another Backstreeter was in attendance.
Johnny No-Name is AJ McLean's way of stepping outside the confines of the Backstreet Boys and trying his wings a little on a bit of a solo flight. He has done a few of these shows before, and each time he has done some material that is far from Backstreet Boys territory. He took the stage this night with a slamming cover of a Limp Bizkit's "Rollin'." AJ employed a faux British accent for his Johnny No-Name persona (reflecting Johnny's birth in Manchester, England, I suppose) as he chattered between songs. His patter owed a debt to Austin Powers, who isn't my idea of a rock star, but hey, I'm not in the target demographic. During the set, Johnny brought out Howie Dorough and Nick Carter for an introduction, which brought a frenzied response from the crowd.
The pre-show publicity had led me to expect some interesting choices of material, and there were, in fact, some curve balls. Johnny did a straight-ahead version of Tonic's "If You Could Only See" that was nearly letter-perfect. Johnny played two-string guitar on George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone." At the end of the song he smashed his guitar, or at least attempted to. Fender Stratocasters are well-made, after all. To my surprise, however, the bulk of the set seemed to be Backstreet Boys material, as far as I could tell.
A word here about the band. Johnny's band was a tight professional outfit that ably supported Johnny wherever he was going musically. For this event, the seven-piece band (all solid players) consisted of guitar, keyboards, bass, guitar-keys, drums, and two female vocalists. One of the vocalists stepped out front to take the lead on "Play That Funky Music" by Wild Cherry. Johnny used this old warhorse to introduce the band and take off on an extended spoken interlude. The crowd ate it up. The band left the stage at this point. When they came back, Nick Carter took a seat at the drums and kicked off the Commodores 1977 hit, "Brick House." Howie Dorough joined AJ, er, Johnny, out front on the mikes as they danced and strutted to the approval of their ecstatic audience. Later, the band's drummer took over, allowing Nick to join his fellow Backstreeters front and center for some serious showmanship, with Johnny returning as AJ and threatening to remove his clothes. He did doff his shirt to screams of approval.
Whew! The crowd was satisfied. After all, they had seen three of the Backstreet Boys! Plus, some money was raised for a worthy charity(the Orlando Sentinel Santa) and a good time was had by all.
WHO IS JOHNNY NO-NAME?
Birthplace – Manchester, England
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