How I Learned to Stop Fearing Da Bomb and Embraced the BackstreetBoys...

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Date: Nov 05, 2099
Source: The Oregonian
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- John Foyston, The Oregonian. October 31, 1999

Kevin is my favorite Backstreet Boy, but I must confess to liking them all better than I expected.

No one is more surprised than I am. Nearly a generation separates me and the Boys; their audience is even younger. My idea of boy bands back when I was one {a boy} leaned more to the blues-based Brit rock of the Yardbirds or Cream than the Monkees. In the years since, I've learned to expect little new artistic ground to be broken beneath the glare of arena lights and have grown weary of the escalating ratio of biz to music in the music biz. So the Backstreet Boys should be emblematic of Everything Evil.

They've sold kazillions of albums; they have hit videos and the brass to call their new album "Millennium." Which they back up with a high-tech pop fest suitable for seeing out the century, the Millennium Tour.

They're young, blindingly handsome {Kevin and Brian}, cloyingly cute {Nick Carter}, aggressively tattooed {AJ}, or kind of nerdy {Howie D.} They appear to have liens upon, if not outright title to, the hearts of American girl younger than 18.

But, despite the numbers and the suspicion that the group has been no less efficiently assembled than some mad scientist's world-conquering atomic robot-or the Monkees, for that matter-the Boys may actually be real people in a real group. From where I sat during the Rose Garden arena concert Monday night, they seemed personable and sweet natured, singing to all those young fans that they-the Boys-would never leave them, never mistreat them. For their part, the girls screamed: A scream sustained for most of the 90-plus minutes of the concert. A scream that was dimensional, palpable and tactile. A scream that seeped through the stoutest of earplugs.

I can't claim to have like the Boys that much. But it's only fair to note that they danced well, sang well-honed harmonies with little apparent electro-trickery and employed the kind of glossy production that makes and ol' boy proud to be an American entertainment consumer.

They balanced flash and bombast with flashes of humor and humanity. Yes, poses were struck and the five singers mugged endlessly for the big video screens overhead, but there were also moment that-though undoubtedly scripted-were more affecting that they had any right to be. Such as when the Boys sang "The Perfect Fan" {"Mom, you always were the perfect fan"} to the five mothers and their daughters seated on the stage. Or when AJ {who contributes tattoos attitude and gruffness to the mix} allowed as how he just might turn his heel on sunny Orlando, Fla., and move up here to Portland because of all the enthusiastic fans and the beautiful ladies. {Speaking, we'll remember, of an audience whose average age was the low teens.}

In both cases, we didn't so much believe the words as appreciate the old-fashioned courtliness behind the effort to make us believe. Also appreciated was the spark of humor missing from other arena extravaganzas. Where Shania Twain's recent stadium Rose Garden spectacle just bugged me {though certainly not her audience} with those three fiddlers a-leapin' and the many smoke bombs a-poppin', the Backstreet Boys-who were guilty of more costume changes, more air time and at least as much smoke-were more enjoyable.

Granted, Shania circled the arena floor on a sedan chair borne on the shoulders of minions and preceded by a phalanx of suited security. Pretty good, but it bespoke a certain amount of the artist taking herself too seriously. Unlike, the Boys, whose entry included the "Star Wars" music, a countdown and the aerial advent of the lads, who emerged from a cloud of smoke and red light suspended on an echelon of skyboards. Skysurfin', dude. It was too cool, and had the added advantage of allowing the guys to wear red-blinking armbands, bionic vest with harness clips and headset microphones.

Those clips came in handy later, during "Quit Playin' Games {With My Heart}," when the singers were jerked skyward again to radiate out in five directions, soaring, tumbling, backstroking just over the outstretched fingers of all those frenzied girls. When they weren't earning frequent flier miles, the Boys were charging up and down the steep ramps of the lift in the center of the stage and dancing with the 10 backup singers and dancers who-along with the excellent backing band-brought the total stage population at times to more than 20 people.

They promenaded, walked, ran or sprinted around the stage so every fan got some time with her favorite Backstreet Boy. They changed costumes. Often. During the show, they covered all the way from Hip-Hop Nation baggies and dorags to the somewhat baffling statement made by motocross body armor. They affected the faux '40s elegance of pewter vest and ties with salmon trou and zoot suit jackets and appropriated biker's black leather.

And when the show was just about over, the Boys stepped back from the spotlights to introduce the cast. They gave each band member and dancer his or her own time in the spotlight to cut loose, and it was a classy way to end a show that was excellent value for the money.

Whether it was worth it to the woman who won free front-row tickets in a radio publicity stunt by sealing her bathing-suited self into a box with a hundred snakes for 20 minutes is up to the winner to decided. {The unsuccessful contestants included a woman who bobbed-successfully enough-for horse dung; two women who lay on their backs and suckled from a 500-pound sow; and a boy in a tuxedo who attempted to eat a bowl of worms.}

I don't think the tickets exists for which I'd lock myself anywhere near even one snake, but that's my own phobia. But I'd consider buying a Backstreet Boys ticket, so perhaps phobias aren't forever.

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