The Oregonian Review: 2/27/01, Portland, OR
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Heartthrobbing beats and ballads
By Marty Hughley of The Oregonian staff
You can reach Marty Hughley at 503-221-8383 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Bruce Springsteen sang -- well, roared, really -- a quarter-century ago about "hiding on the back streets," you'd never have imagined he was in a place with the likes of Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, A.J. McLean and Kevin Richardson. To judge by these Backstreet Boys, who drew roars of their own from a sellout crowd at the Rose Garden arena on Tuesday night, back streets are rather more glitzy than many of us might have thought.
And no place at all to hide. Certainly not beneath the multiple lighting trusses, wide-screen video monitors flashing images of streaking meteors, twinkling stars, fireballs, etc. The prevalence of dry-ice smoke threatened to obscure a few things (including the footing of one of the auxiliary dancers who took an awkward tumble). But mostly the stage, with wings that swept smoothly all the way up to the edge of the stands, was designed for visibility.
There was plenty to see, of course, from the battalion of dancers to the many hidden-panel entrances and exits to the canned video of them supposedly doing a midset costume change backstage. Then there was the Boys' midset appearance on a small secondary stage in the middle of the fevered crowd, and the suspension bridge that let them walk leisurely back to the main stage.
That sort of stage business is essential to a modern pop extravaganza such as this, in which the instrumentalists are tucked away at the back of the stage (somebody hiding after all), and the music is an echoey, but exact, replica of the records.
That replication was what the fans came for, and it worked on the big-beat tributes to their fans, "Everyone" and "Larger Than Life" that opened the show, as well as the creamy ballads "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely" and "How Did I Fall in Love With You," which got even wilder cheers.
The perpetual boy-band question -- can they really sing? -- was answered in the affirmative, if you have a trusting attitude toward the use of technology.
That other matter -- can they dance? -- was more problematic. Surely they don't move with the panache of their rivals 'N Sync.
Uh-oh. Maybe we shouldn't have opened that subject up again.
Perhaps if your notion of great competitions stops at Yankees vs. Mets, you may not have noticed that for the past few years the Backstreet Boys have been locked in fierce battle with fellow boy-band colossus 'N Sync, each vying for control of the hearts and purse strings of teen and preteen girls, and whatever other slice of market share they might snag.
Fans of either band, perhaps suffering from Top 40 myopia, frequently complain that comparing the two groups is unfair, but you could hardly consider this a case of apples and oranges; it's more like Granny Smiths and Gravensteins.
Five photogenic guys, digitally processed harmonies, sugar-coated ersatz-R&B balladry, mechanistic dance-pop, all the superfluous high-tech video flash and stage business that money can expect a profitable return on -- the formula is essentially the same in either case.
Sure, this show made an argument for the tattoo-sporting Backstreet Boys as a bit tougher in image and attitude, less gimmicky (by degrees, anyway); perhaps the preferable choice for listeners on the far side of teenhood. But it also revealed them as the less charismatic bunch.
But judging by the response of the Rose Garden crowd, teen-pop's chart lull is but a momentary blip, a matter of product cycles, not of the passionate relationship between the Backstreet Boys and their fans. From fans like these, of course, there's no hiding.
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