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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

THIS IS US TOUR: Backstreet Boys Never Grew Up

Thank heaven for little girls, they grow up in the most delightful way.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the Backstreet Boys. Seventeen years later and they’re still doing exactly the same thing — singing fluff, dancing dirty and making their (slightly older) female fans scream in their jeans.

They’ve since added nothing to this particular pop music canon that was fairly impoverished to begin with. What happened to “artistic growth?” These Backstreet Men are still too young to be a nostalgia act, but that’s exactly what Monday night’s show at Rexall Place was. Next stop: Vegas.

It was beyond sad, not just because only 5,000 fans showed up. A.J. McLean — he’s the bad one, and the bald one — is still a sub-par rapper. Nick Carter is still a pitchy singer. Brian Littrell can still make a grown man gag. Howie Dorough is still the “cute one.” Or was that Nick?

Neither is so cute anymore. And like their fan base, they’ve shrunk, down one Kevin Richardson, who wisely avoided more public embarrassment and took up farming or something. Not that he was missed.

Choreography was old hat, the lyrics were insipid, the music was canned, the entire event dripped of insincerity. One guy on stage, some kind of DJ/drummer, went through the motions of hitting cymbals and operating some kind of keyboard, but that was obviously just window dressing. Most of the sounds coming from stage were pre-recorded. It was Backstreet karaoke at its finest.

Material was a trip down memory lane for the 5,000 women here — fans who long ago packed up their Backstreet Boys posters from their childhood bedrooms and moved on.

The show opened with Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) and slid into We’ve Got It Going On before introducing a new song, PDA as in “I want your PDA.” The fact that PDA stands for “public display of affection” and not “personal digital assistant” doesn’t make it any less a lousy song. It’s as romantic as a ... words fail me, a PDA.

There was a medley of old songs, a few more newer ones cut from the same stale cloth as PDA and the old chart-toppers like Quit Playing Games With My Heart or Larger Than Life or The Shape of My Heart. It’s heart shaped! Backstreet songs still come in only two flavours of vanilla: Fizzy dance numbers and mushy ballads.

The only new wrinkle, the only interesting thing about the show, were some video clips inserting the boys into various popular feature films. That, and some dancing girls, but even then the choreography was nothing special.

Speaking of the last boy band standing, at least New Kids on the Block managed to inject some freshness into their comeback act a couple of years ago — plus they brought along Lady Gaga as an opening act. Bested by NKOTB — what a humiliation.

Evidence that musical fizz for little girls hasn’t gone out of style just yet can be found in Backstreet’s opening acts: Dan Talevski and Shawn Desman. The latter you may have heard of, the former probably not, but no matter, these pretty boys and their pretty music are interchangeable.

Give or take the number of back-up dancers or costume changes, it was the same show. One expresses a wish to “do it again.” The other urges, “Let’s go!” Both conduct their steamy seductions on the dance floor, and ask “Mr. DJ” to “turn it up.” Clever rhymes abound, such as “She’s got just what I like/we’ll do it all night,” which isn’t a true rhyme, but who cares when you’re on the dance floor proclaiming that “nothing can stop me on a night like this”?

Both sing their own leads, though both use “guide tracks” which isn’t lip-syncing like training wheels is riding a real bike.

Both have thoroughly co-opted as many hip-hop clichés as they could get their hands on, both go for uptempo, machine-driven club grooves and both wowed the girls with hackneyed dirty dancing that was already uncool when Justin Timberlake first did it.

Both eventually deployed the requisite heartbreaking ballad that expresses uncontrollable infatuation — one rendered “speechless,” the other prone to “shiver” when that certain special someone is close. Both of these guys, needless to say, “don’t want this feeling to end.”

Hey, if things get tough in pop music, maybe these dudes could team up with other club-bopping heartthrobs and form a singing group. Four or five of them ought to do it. We shall call our new invention ... the boy band!