Touch of gray

The Backstreet Boys are saccharine sweet as ever. At what point does the boy band grow up?

Backstreet Boys: really pushing the definition of “boys” to the limit.

Backstreet Boys: really pushing the definition of “boys” to the limit.

Photo by Ashley Hayes-Stone

It has been 26 years since the Backstreet Boys debuted on the music scene—a fact that the aging boy band didn’t want its audience to forget during its two-hour set on Aug. 1 at the Golden 1 Center.

Twenty-six years is a long time, especially in boy band years. Grunge, electronica, the mainstreaming of hip-hop, dozens of other, newer and younger boy bands—BSB has survived popular music’s ever-evolving styles during its career.

And the fans are clearly still here for it.

Not only did the group’s latest album, DNA, debut at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart (19 years after its last chart-topping album, Black and Blue), but its tour by the same name has been selling out arenas everywhere, including Sacramento, where a multi-generational, mostly female audience shrieked its way through a tightly executed, if somewhat bloodless, 35-song set.

Over the years, BSB—A.J. Mclean, Howie Dorough, Nick Carter and cousins Kevin Richardson, and Brian Littrell—tried to set themselves apart by rejecting the “boy band” description to focus on their vocal talents. Certainly, they showed off their a cappella chops at Golden 1. But let’s not kid ourselves, these are five 40-something men still dancing in formation and matching outfits.

At what point does the boy band grow up? Does it matter if they’re a little older and grayer?

No, but it’d be interesting to see the men of Backstreet Boys push their wholesome and radio-ready pop into more sophisticated territory. At the very least, they should shake the dust off their live show.

One could swear on a stack of ’90s-era hit CDs, for example, that except for swapping in “Sacramento” for the name of another city, BSB’s between-song banter is nearly word-for-word identical during each and every one of its shows.

Cute anecdotes about the first time they all met? Loving shout-outs to the fans? Funny stage antics? All carefully scripted down to the very last self-effacing joke and seemingly throwaway line.

BSB’s slick artificiality is beside the point, however, especially when it comes to 20- and 30-something women drunk on $17 chardonnay and nostalgia.

For two solid hours, the Backstreet Boys demonstrated polished, perfectly timed showmanship. Accompanied by dazzling lights, songs such as the opening number “Everyone” and “I Want it That Way” kept the crowd on its feet and ecstatic. Likewise, mid-tempo ballads such as “Shape of My Heart” and “All I Have to Give” showed off the group’s sweet and smooth vocals—they can still hit the high notes—and reminded fans why their musical bread-and-butter has always favored heartfelt declarations of love and longing over sly sexual innuendo. These songs are meant for ears ages 2-to-100.

Littrell’s 16-year-old son, Baylee Littrell, opened the show with a 30-minute set of songs that showed why the young singer is a nascent country-pop star with catchy, albeit largely unoriginal, songs including “Don’t Knock It” and “We Run This Beach.” The younger Littrell’s set was notable mostly for the way he brought enthusiastic audience members to their seats a full hour before BSB was scheduled to go on stage—pretty rare for a relatively unknown opening artist. His act may not be as polished as his father’s yet, but it’s evident he could follow a similarly starry path.

Ultimately, though, the night belonged to the Backstreet Boys. Older, maybe wiser and as pleasingly saccharine sweet as ever.