AUBURN — Amid a break from Friday’s gig, Nick Carter gleefully announced to the crowd that his band was approaching 30 years of being the Backstreet Boys.
A roar from the crowd, then a groan echoed through Auburn’s White River Amphitheater. 30 years? No, not the Backstreet Boys, the princes of ’90s boy bands who charmed millions of teenyboppers dressed in butterfly hair clips, bucket hats and low-rise jeans. And certainly not me and the thousands of women of the same age (for the most part), those former teenagers facing the realization that we, too, may have aged since then.
This theme ran throughout the two-hour DNA World Tour show: throwbacks to the hits that catapulted the five members into the stratosphere all those years ago, a few new songs added, and frequent reminders of the passage of time.
Not that their age – Carter, the youngest, is 42 and the eldest of the group Kevin Richardson is 50 – had any impact on the energy emanating from the stage. The choreography for each song had clearly been honed throughout the 40 gigs they’d performed since the DNA tour began in June, and the vocals mostly hit the deliciously high notes they’d hit since the first term. of Clinton. They fit together like it’s, well, in their DNA.
The concert lasted two years – it was originally scheduled for August 2020, then postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We turn to nostalgia in times of crisis, and it was during the early stages of the pandemic that I reconnected with the Boys. I filled my Spotify playlist with 90s bops, thinking back to the Backstreet Boys vs. *NYSNC dispute that divided the country’s playgrounds, wondering what happened to my Hanson posters and that VHS tape of the critically acclaimed (I’m the critic) movie “Spice World” is probably gathering dust in my mom’s basement.
So many of the band’s past stories mention the fan favorite boy, the one they would marry or at least serenade. But I never had a favourite. My plan was much more feasible: the band would hire me as a backup dancer; I would do a dance rendition of “As Long as You Love Me” to win the affection of the myriad Jacks, Chads and Erics at my suburban school. Realistic.
Frenzied Obsessions are no longer so Frenzied. One difference from their 90s shows: The boys – they will always be boys – are no longer bombarded with discarded bras and panties. Only one ended up on stage, and Howie Dorough didn’t seem to know what to do with the lacy outfit after picking it up. So he put it on Carter’s head, laughed and left. This was soon followed by “No Place,” a song from their 2019 “DNA” album, accompanied by a music video featuring each of the members with their wives and children.
It’s an awkward juxtaposition: family men approaching AARP membership eligibility whose gyrations and stage thrusts will live on YouTube forever.
But they seem to have a sense of humor about it now. At one point, AJ McLean (by far the most dynamic of the group) and Richardson changed their costumes on stage, undressing behind a screen. Fans have thrown a lot of underwear at them over the years, so they would do the same, they said, throwing white briefs into the pit.
Brian Littrell asked how many people had ever attended a BSB gig – about half the crowd cheered, and for those who hadn’t, Littrell said they would take us back through the years. And they did, with crowd favorite hits – ‘I Want It That Way’, ‘I’ll Never Break Your Heart’ – they played thousands of times but with enough vigor that they seemed happy to play it for the 1,001st time.
They had a lot of banter with the band, probably memorized from so many previous shows. Gone were the worries about their impeccable image: They shared how when the group formed, Richardson was the only one who could legally drink, so he was tasked with running Zima errands. The group officially started on April 20 (the 4/20 date known for annual cannabis-centric celebrations) — a detail that seemed to delight Richardson, who shouted “woohoo!”
They added a nugget from the Pacific Northwest: in 1995, they performed at the Puyallup fair with Soul 4 Real.
Three years later, the band played KeyArena in front of thousands of mostly teenage girls who were sobbing in glee and trying to bypass security guards to reach the idols. A Seattle Times reporter interviewed a 14-year-old, who was more into rock bands but admitted to liking the Backstreet Boys because of their interactions with fans. “Everyone has fun while they’re young,” the teenager said.
In booming moments of hits like “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” and “Larger than Life,” I heard throwback to those teenybopper times. Maybe that’s all the crowd wanted – that feeling that we’re still having fun, like we’re still young.
Correction: The song “As Long as You Love Me” was mislabeled in an earlier version of this story.