Backstreet Boys at Xcel Energy Center, 6/10/14

Backstreet Boys
With Avril Lavigne
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Once upon a time, the twenty-somethings of today were hormonal preteens with few fantastical outlets. We didn't have twerking or cell phones or access to the internet and its infinite world of risque possibilities. We had watered-down pop music sung by men in flowing khaki suits. We had suggestive interpretive dance moves. We had the innocent sensuality of Nick Carter and Brian Littrell.

Every year or two, Backstreet Boys return for another tour, capitalizing on sad suckers like myself who can't pass on the chance to see their childhood love objects in the flesh... again. On Tuesday night, Backstreet Boys hit St. Paul on their "In a World Like This Tour" with special guest, Avril Lavigne (whom, lest we forget, is married to Nickelback's Chad Kroeger).

The preteens who worshiped the Backstreet Boys in the early '90s and 2000s are now at least ten years older. Though most have moved on from their boy band heartthrob days, a few nostalgia-plagued fans remain. I am not immune to the powers of the Backstreet Boys. To mark the occasion, I wore pigtails, my Backstreet Boys shirt, and so much makeup you'd swear I just broke into my mother's purse for the first time. I'll grow up when I'm dead.

Gimme Noise missed the first song of Avril Lavigne's set due to a roadblock of shiny, sequined bodies out front. By the time we pushed through the crowd, she was halfway through a sleepy rendition of "When You're Gone," decked out in a skeletor leotard, black tutu, and knee highs. At 29 years old, the Canadian songstress still manages to look like she just emerged from a Hot Topic shopping spree.

Lavigne is a practiced musician with an impressive vocal range and skilled live singing abilities, but she lacks the spark to keep a crowd fully captivated. It makes sense -- most of us would probably grow tired after the thousandth time belting "Sk8er Boi" in front of a screaming arena audience. Lavigne has the moves, the voice, and the catchy pop songs to succeed, but, as a nearby audience member pointed out, it kind of seems like she's on quaaludes, nonexistent though they may be.

During the set change between Lavigne and Backstreet Boys, a video of the Boys was projected on the screens to the left and right of the stage. But it wasn't just any video -- it was an ad for a Backstreet Boys cruise. The Boys took every opportunity throughout the night to promote their cruise, upcoming film, and new album, and the crowd ate it up, screaming as though the faces projected on the screen were the Backstreet Boys in the flesh.

The lights grew dim. A cheesy James Bond-inspired video was projected on the screen. By the time the Backstreet Boys took the stage, our ears had been subjected to frequencies we didn't know existed. The screaming was brutal. Unceasing. Devastating. We were 15 again.

The Boys kicked off the night with "The Call" off their 2001 album, Black & Blue. Within moments, my jaded shield faded. Though I tried to contain it, my mouth was soon ejecting screams, my body was breaking out middle school dance moves, and my heart was, once again, throbbing. After 21 years, the Backstreet Boys continue to completely dominate arena shows.

That said, a few things have changed over the years. AJ still looks like a total tool, but in a hipster, handlebar mustache, and stretched ears kind of way. Three of the Boys are covered in tattoos. Most are married and have children. And, though they continue to bring the '90s edge, their approach to sexuality has transitioned from subtle to blatant. Nick Carter, by far the most energetic of the group, spent a fair amount of time grabbing his crotch and humping the air.

The Backstreet Boys were keen to prove that they're in on the joke. When Carter addressed the crowd, things got meta.

"We want you to act like you're 15 years old tonight," he yelled, commanding concert-goers to go home and explain to their loved ones that, "I was at a Backstreet Boys concert and lost my voice."


Later, Kevin Richardson gave a similar speech.

"Are you ready to party like it's 1999?" he asked. "We wanna take you down memory lane tonight."

As expected, the songs off Backstreet Boys new album, In a World Like This, were met with much less enthusiasm than their old school hits, but the crowd's attention was never lost. The Boys knew how to read and work a crowd. They're attuned to the power of the point -- by blindly gesturing towards random audience members, they repeatedly recaptured the aroused crowd. Another attention-grabbing tactic they've mastered is the "name that city method." St. Paul was name-dropped every other song, which the audience reacted to as though the Boys had called each individual by first name. Oh, and they referenced Prince. Duh.

Towards the end of the show, the Boys broke out into a brief acoustic set with Kevin (the best live singer and worst performer) on keys, Howie on acoustic bass, Nick and Brian on guitars, AJ on a box drum, and a number of girls seated around them. "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)" was well-suited for the setup and was made especially entertaining when the camera zoomed in on drunkest girl on stage for what felt like forever.

The main set ended with everyone's favorite middle school slow dance song, "I Want it That Way." A sea of hands and cell phones swayed through the arena. Everyone and their mother sang along. No seriously, there were a lot of singing mothers.

The Boys played a double encore, starting with "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," featuring the Thriller-esque dance moves from the music video, and ending with "Larger Than Life," for which the Boys changed into hockey jerseys.

Ten years have passed since the last time I saw the Backstreet Boys play, and they still put on one the most entertaining live shows I've attended to date. No shame.

Lots of sequins, denim, and 20-somethings, in addition to the occasional teen and MILF.

Wife to husband: "I think they had it that loud so everyone could hear."
Husband to wife: "Yeah, and then some."

Critic's bias: I was raised on the Backstreet Boys and have a penchant for shitty pop music.

Notebook dump: Nick Carter gained all his weight in the butt.

I came up with a new game called "spot the disgruntled man who doesn't want to be at the Backstreet Boys show"


The Call
Don't Want You Back
Permanent Stain
All I Have to Give
As Long as You Love Me
Show 'Em (What You're Made Of)
Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely
I'll Never Break Your Heart
We've Got It Goin' On
10,000 Promises
Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)
The One
Love Somebody
Shape of My Heart
In a World Like This
I Want It That Way

Everybody (Backstreet's Back)

Larger Than Life

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