Ravinia – Highland Park, IL
June 17, 2010
Apparently, the Backstreet Boys have been back for a while now (since 2005), but seeing them for the first time (almost ten years after reaching the pinnacle point of their career) on June 17th, 2010 at the Ravinia Festival was the ultimate throwback to my childhood. Being apart of the atmosphere was like waking up on Christmas morning. I was experiencing pure exhilaration and anticipation. And also acting like a 14 year old again.
The best way to describe the ambience of the concert is to reference the newest summer comedy, Get Him To The Greek. Brian Littrell, Nick Carter, AJ McLean, and Howie Dorough were all cumulatively the equivalents of Russell Brand’s character Aldous Snow in the movie. To recap the group’s career: the Backstreet Boys were once on top of the world. The Backstreet Boys fell due to professional and personal differences. Each member of the Backstreet Boys endured their share of conflict. Kevin Richardson officially quit and made the jump to Broadway (Chicago). Littrell, Carter, McLean, and Dorough came together for big comeback album Never Gone (2005) to slingshot the Backstreet Boys back into the national spotlight they had once been under (minus the Russell Brand/Jonah Hill antics, of course).
I am wholeheartedly convinced that there will never be a fanatical craze similar to that of the boy band mania of the 1990s ever again. A time never to be repeated and never to be forgotten. With that said, no matter how hard the Backstreet Boys try to reach that peak once again, it will never happen. Thus forcing the guys into submission of their fans’ wants and wishes: the massive list of hits they sang in the late ’90s and early ’00s.
Set List / Chicago
Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)
We’ve Got It Goin’ On
Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)
As Long As You Love Me
This Is Us
Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely
All I Have To Give
She’s A Dream
I’ll Never Break Your Heart
Shape Of My Heart
More Than That
Larger Than Life
All Of Your Life (You Need Love)
Bye Bye Love
I Want It That Way
Straight Through My Heart
Backstreet Boys have been introduced to the realm of New Kids On The Block syndrome. Carter, Dorough, McLean, and Littrell are only capable of having a career with each other. A career that can not be successfully obtained via solo experiments. Therefore, BSB will forever tour nationally as the Backstreet Boys, releasing a new album every couple of years. Sadly, their career will never escalate, capping off and staying on the same level from here on out. The fans are going to demand “I Want It That Way,” “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart),” and every other hit from Backstreet Boys (1996), Millennium (1999), and Black & Blue (2000). This demand for the old songs will continue even when all four members are sixty years old.
Signs during the concert that the Backstreet Boys (and me) are aging:
1. Baylee Littrell, son of Brian Littrell and Leighanne Wallace, introduced the Backstreet Boys and thanked fans for their support before the curtain opened. That was probably the cutest thing I have ever seen as Baylee pulled Howie’s one-year-old on stage in a red wagon. Baylee had to be around five or six years old.
2. All four Backstreet Boys looked uncomfortable singing their cheesy ’90s hits and the lyrics that made them world dominating superstars.
3. Nick Carter, the “baby” of the group, is 30 years old now!
4. I was uncomfortable watching these now grown and mature men dance up on twenty-something back-up dancers that belonged in a Playboy spread.
As a boy band that in the glory days came to Chicago and sold out the Allstate Arena, it must be difficult to come and play Ravinia, a much smaller venue. The stage was implicative of what I imagine their old set up used to be, but on a much smaller scale. There were two sets of staircases (stage right and left) that led to a massive platform back in the middle of the stage with a slitted screen that BSB entered through after a video montage to “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).” Special effects which the show heavily relied on included bright colored holographic lights nostalgic of a techno nightclub. Last, but not least, BSB’s touring DJ (and only instrumentalist) was positioned center stage.
One approach that was fresh and highly entertaining was a set of themed video montages shown during costume changes. Each video starred one Backstreet Boy and was based off of a movie with the respective BSB green-screened into various scenes from the film. Props to whoever’s idea that was. I cannot imagine how antsy and bored the audience would be during the boy’s side stage quick changes if it were not for humorous movie spoofs to grab the attention of fans.
First off, Howie played Paul Walker’s character in The Fast And The Furious. Secondly, AJ played Brad Pitt’s character in Fight Club. Thirdly, Brian was charming as ever playing James Marsden’s role as the prince from Enchanted. Finally, Nick took a shot at Keanu Reeve’s world renowned futuristic Neo character in The Matrix.
As previously mentioned, the component that did not work was the inclusion of trashy back-up dancers. I spent most of the time trying to figure out what exactly their purpose on the tour was rather than enjoying the girls as an added garnish to enhance the overall performance. The back-up dancers seemed too much of a desperate attempt by the Backstreet Boys to rev up their sex symbol image and fit in with the times. Note to BSB: sex does not always sell. Especially in the instance where there are young kids in attendance who do not care to watch strippers grind on boy band members in their 30s.
The entire show was done in true boy band style as the formula has not changed since the ’90s, leaving me as giddy as if I was thirteen years old again. It was exactly how I had imagined a Backstreet Boys concert would be. There was complete pandemonium. There was mechanical and synchronized choreography. Brian is still the most adorable of the group, winking, waving, and making goofy facial expressions at fans while onstage. Littrell is still the best vocalist of the group. No doubt about it, Brian can really sing! Nick is still the sex symbol (read: “hot one”), paying proper homage to Michael Jackson with pelvic thrusts and crotch-grabbing. Even after all the drugs, alcohol, and rehab…AJ still has the appearance of resident “bad boy” and title of “most unique voice.” As for Howie? Well, I never really knew what label/stereotype was given to the latino/hispanic member. All I can say is thank God he got a new haircut and forever banned his old omnipresent ponytail.
This review can not be written without a reference to the ultimate pop music writing/producing genius Max Martin, who is the mastermind behind the Backstreet Boys’ sound and succession of hit singles and albums. To this day, BSB’s best music is created when they collaborate with Martin, who penned and produced the second single “Bigger” off of This Is Us (2009). If Backstreet Boys want to have a sustainable career, my suggestion is to stick with Martin. The man is incapable of writing and producing anything but number one hits (Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”).
What happens when BSB records a tune not delivered by Martin? You get something written by T-Pain called “She’s A Dream,” which was a complete bomb in the set as Nick Carter sang the very un-white-boy lyric “Shorty don’t know who I am.” I am pretty sure I heard crickets during this one, as well as during “PDA,” both of which were by far the lowest points of the night. Rich white boy band guys singing the line “hands all over your booty” just does not work. Not at all.
All criticism aside, I could go to a Backstreet Boys concert night after night for the rest of my life, replenishing the insane adrenaline rush I get from hearing them perform all of the songs I grew up loving and singing along to. This eponymous concert was a way for me to dwell on and enjoy a sea full of memories from my younger years. Speaking of the sea, for those of you who missed their show, do not fret. The opportunity to embark on a musical journey of a lifetime with the Backstreet Boys is happening in December. For an exorbitant price you can set sail with the boys on their first-ever cruise. Watch out John Mayer because…”Backstreet’s back, alright!” Anchor’s away!
Click on thumbnails to enlarge images:
Written by Kate Jacobsen
Photographed by Jennifer Boyer