Backstreet Boys: Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim CA

There’s a Backstreet Boy for Every Teenage Girl

IT WAS ONLY fitting that the Backstreet Boys performed the first of their four Southern California live dates Thursday at Arrowhead Pond, a venue just down the road from Disneyland.

The Orlando, Fla., quintet, which has fended off all comers to become the world’s biggest-selling boy band, is synchronized more accurately than five Swiss watches and mounts a stage show with the high-tech flash of Tomorrowland and the mawkish sentiment of ‘It’s a Small World’. But so do ‘N Sync and 98 Degrees, and they can’t pull off four arena dates in a week. So why are the Backstreet Boys all that?

Chalk it up to good casting. Less a band than a troupe, the Backstreeters are like those old comic-book heroes the Justice League of America, who had little in common but created an unbeatable chemistry when they joined forces.

Each member is an archetype of boyish masculinity. His body bedecked with tattoos, Alexander James “AJ” McLean is the tenderhearted B-boy, a street tough with a big heart; Howard “Howie D” Dorough is the earnest, shy romantic; Brian “B-Rok” Littrell the unattainable heartthrob; Nick Carter the preternaturally talented pretty boy; and Kevin Richardson the dark Adonis, too cool for a nickname. Together, they satisfy every primal urge a teenage girl may want to project onto them.

At a time when special effects are de rigueur for shows that skew toward teeny-boppers, the Backstreet Boys pack the biggest wow factor. They have certainly upped the ante for entrances, “flying” onto their theater-in-the-round stage (which looked, appropriately enough, like a circus big top) on silver surfboards suspended from harnesses while the Star Wars theme blared.

There was constant movement. Instead of having the circular stage rotate, the Boys themselves kept jogging around it so everyone could get a good look at them. With so many other boy bands out there courting and wooing listeners, it’s not only important for the Boys to emote; they also have to work hard on stage, the better to prove their unstinting commitment to the fans.

More so than their contemporaries, the Backstreet Boys lean a little harder on balladry than dance jams. At the Pond, the quintet kept switching from uplift to rueful regret, alternating funky, self-aggrandizing anthems such as ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’ with laments such as ‘Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely’, while the Pond’s yearning fans fantasized about filling the romantic void in their idols’ desolate lives.

The Backstreeters, or at least their handlers, are well aware of how the band’s female fans favor different members, and the show was designed to evenly distribute the screams among all five über-dudes.

All of this well-calibrated activity was exhausting to watch, and the band’s breakneck dazzle just canceled itself out over time, like a high-budget Andrew Lloyd Webber musical with a thin score. Sometimes even kids need some substance to go with their style, and you could catch more than a few fans snoozing on their chairs about halfway through the show.

© Marc WeingartenLos Angeles Times, 16 October 1999

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