From Boys to beleaguered has-beens

Money-grubbing and the art of nostalgia: Ticket holders had been lined up for hours outside of Ace of Spades in a queue that wrapped around the block and out of sight, and despite our certain innumerable differences, we all had one thing in common: At one point, we were all 12-year-old girls. The sold-out crowd that assembled to see if the Backstreet Boys were indeed back (“all right!”) was made up of near entirely 30-year-old women dressed as their preteen selves imagined they would when this day finally came. It’s all fun and games in pink, plaid schoolgirl skirts until someone starts sending Snapchats.

A squad of porno-chic, flavored-vodka promoters handed out free samples of their lemon-drop elixir near the bar, eliciting howls and coos from the already deeply inebriated patrons. “Somebody’s giving booze to these goddamn things!” I wrote in my notebook, albeit in bubble letters and with hearts over the i’s.

After an opening set by the Fray, roadies cleared the stage of the band’s equipment, but did not return to load anything in for the Backstreet Boys, a group who made their fortune as strictly song-and-dance men. Taking the stage in a din of conniption, BSB launched their set with one of their familiar mid-’90s hits, spreading across the stage with high kicks and jazz hands, but the energy was lacking. The Boys, now men, showed all the signs of beleaguered has-beens, their attitudes speaking volumes more to “Let’s get this over with” than “I’m deeply at peace with my life right now.”

A.J. McLean emerged as the personable ringleader, speaking to the crowd on behalf of the band who stood nodding mechanically behind him. In a gesture of recognition that the song-and-dance approach was less suited to the now near-middle-age men, each member propped themselves on a stool, acoustic guitar in hand. While the band struck up the C-G-D chord progression from songs off its latest album, a woman near me sped toward the dismal event horizon where disappointment and black-out drunk join their undignified forces.

“What is this?!” she yelled at the stage, dropping her head on my shoulder. “We came here for the hits!”

It was the disintegration of the Backstreet Boys persona in the flesh. To expect anything else from the evening would have been naive, but the shortcoming would have been forgivable if there’d been any sense of humor about the past offered from the stage or the crowd. Instead, a sloppy sadness pervaded the closing numbers, and the idea of paying a further $20 for the BSB “after-party” at Assembly seemed the pinnacle of money grubbing. The Backstreet Boys got what they came for. Whether anybody else did is the question.

—Julianna Boggs

Classic but not nostalgic: I’ve attended many empty-room hip-hop shows at the Blue Lamp, but Masta Ace on Monday night defied the odds. As the clock struck 1 a.m., Masta Ace closed with “Beautiful,” and the still-full room made it clear that no one turned in early nor lost the energy to shout with their hands in the air. Then again, when performers are billed as “legendary,” these are the results you expect.

There were three opening acts and each built momentum for the headliner, though the opening sets were not without a few deflating moments.

Artists who share stage banter along the lines of “I remember the golden era,” and “This is real, true school hip-hop” sound like tea party Republicans with their fabrications of a formerly ideal America ruined by current trends.

Masta Ace, on the other hand, took the crowd back in time, but not because he refuses to accept changing times, but rather because his classic material hearkens back to the ’80s and ’90s, while his last celebrated release was 2004’s A Long Hot Summer. The set ran the gamut of his discography with a three-song emphasis on his 1995 record Sittin’ on Chrome.

Throughout, Masta Ace never looked short on breath or on energy. When you think of the greats, the term “performer” makes for an appropriate description rather than “rapper.” At age 47, Masta Ace is considered a living legend, yet he still takes the stage without expectation of respect. On this night in particular, he gave his energy to the room first and used it to fuel the audience until close.

—Blake Gillespie