There is a phrase often used to describe music that one shamefully enjoys. The good old guilty pleasure — the Savage Garden song that’s never quite left your head, that Ace of Base CD that’s been in your car since 1994 -– a song or artist you secretly listen to with earphones buried in your skull. Something you hope never comes up on shuffle with anyone else around.
For some reason, this concept, the very notion of a “guilty pleasure” never took hold in my brain. I am free of musical shame. My fellow Antiquiet writers know I have a weak spot for everything from Britney Spears to Wham!, and I make no effort to hide this from anyone. So, much to my excitement and inner glee, I found myself seeing the Backstreet Boys last night – for the third time in my life.
I joined with several thousand individuals at Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena last night for the show. Surrounded by older women, younger women, unfortunate boyfriends (who probably secretly like at least I Want It That Way) and even some of my fellow gay men, I witnessed a band that I grew up with experience the pains (and rewards) of growing older.
No, these are certainly no longer boys. The once heartthrobs have aged, albeit gracefully. The voices have deepened; the dance moves have gotten less demanding. By and large, however, these are still the guys so many grew up idolizing and falling in love with, a time capsule from a world pre-Twitter, when TRL ruled and Justin and Britney were still in love.
The evening was stocked with every hit single a fan could want, from set opener The Call and great takes on As Long As You Love Me and Show Me The Meaning of Being Lonely to an acoustic rendition of Quit Playing Games (With My Heart). There were new tracks as well. Tracks not quite as good as the old material from a pure pop perspective, but nothing to complain about either. Show ‘Em (What You’re Made Of) featured a soaring chorus that found the guys harmonizing perfectly, while the title track of their newest (independently released!!) album In A World Like This found both Nick Carter and Brian Littrell strapping on acoustic guitars to help flesh out the sound. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention – Mr. Kevin Richardson is back with the boys after a few years away. Yep – all five are back together again.
Vocally, the guys were at their best when they were joined together. There was never a broken chorus or an off note as long as the guys were teamed up in harmony with one another. Separately, well… things weren’t as strong. AJ McLean’s voice has held up well, perhaps even better than it was 15 years ago, but the rest of the guys had their fair share of sketchy notes. One that stood out in particular was Nick Carter’s opening line of the new track Madeline, a rough start was so bad Carter had to stop and laugh several times before regaining his composure. After the first chorus, he even joked with the crowd that there was now no way anyone in the audience was going to buy their new record. You’ve got to give props to a boy band with self-deprecating humor.
Honestly, none of that mattered anyway. No one was there to hear a pitch perfect, auto-tuned mess. The boys were there, singing live, stirring a great big pot of nostalgia for the audience. The hits just kept coming, pushing the show to the near two-hour mark before things finally settled down with an extended encore of Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) and Larger Than Life.
The boys are in a weird stage in their career, still capable of staging an arena tour while independently releasing new material. This puts them in a unique position among their 90s comrades – how many other successful acts from the decade of Capri-sun and Gogurt has the balls to release an independent album while also still having the ability to put thousands of asses in seats at your local arena?
The acoustic set in the middle of the show was a nice touch, finding the man band members each grabbing an instrument and slowing things down for a bit. The guys performed Drowning acapella before busting out oldie (but still a goodie) 10,000 Promises. Carter once again joked with his band mates that times are changing. The boy band was growing up you see, now a full on, instrument-playing man band. He was mostly joking, but there was a hint of truth behind his words. The guys were more than proficient on their given instrument, and the mini-set served as the perfect way to break up the hit-laden set.
Interestingly, the boys tapped Avril Lavigne to open. Much to my surprise (and delight), Ms. Sk8er Boi canceled her appearance only moments before she was set to hit the stage. What was the official reason? Sudden sickness. It turns out she heard herself at soundcheck and realized she shouldn’t inflict that on anyone else, especially not the good people of Oklahoma City. Of course, that isn’t the real reason, I’m sure it’s much more Complicated than that.
On the Backstreet Boy front, however, fans in OKC got exactly what they paid for last night – an evening with 1998 in all of its glory. Thousands of people shared in the experience of pop music, and for at least one night, I got to be around more people like me – ones who feel no guilt about loving pop music. Maybe it’s silly or senseless to enjoy such “mindless” music, but I can guarantee you there were several thousand people having more fun in downtown Oklahoma City last night than you’d expect – and five of them just happened to be up on stage.
The Call, Don’t Want You Back, Incomplete, 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, Breathe, I’ll Never Break Your Heart, We’ve Got It Goin’ On, Drowning, 10,000 Promises, Madeleine, 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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