Photos by Dave Schilling and Grant Pardee
This week, I went to see a free Backstreet Boys concert of at an outdoor mall in Los Angeles called the Grove. That means I saw five 45-year-old men make hundreds of women cry outside of a bookstore.
I can tell you that the event was more enjoyable than I anticipated. Seeing the Backstreet Boys at the Grove is a sublime experience. It was reminiscent of what is must have been like to see the Beatles' rooftop concert in 1969, except surrounded by chain restaurants. Where else could you see an actual cheesecake factory singing directly in front of the Cheesecake Factory?
I arrived two hours prior to showtime to discover a long line snaking around the block. We were told later that the audience count was 10,000 people, although by my count it was closer to the mid-9,000s. The demographic of the crowd was surprising. A Backstreet Boys concert in 2013 is sort of like a comic book convention: there are long lines of grown adults waiting for something that you'd think would be exclusively for children.
These women were the front of the line. They'd been waiting there for 11 hours. You'd think Brian Littrell's wife would be able to get backstage passes or something.
This is a picture of a diehard fan who was so diehard she brought a copy of a Backstreet Boys compact disc with her to the show, perhaps because she doesn't understand how live performance works. Or maybe she just wanted to be prepared in case there was an unprecedented audio disaster and the show couldn't go on without a copy of the group's Greatest Hits: Chapter One and then they would pop that bad boy in and all just enjoy the songs from the CD.
This picture is just for the evidence of how many people were accompanied by a Hot-N-Ready pizza box from the Little Caesar's across the street. If there's one thing Americans love more than idol worship, it's farting.
Unfortunately for all of the patient people waiting in line, the event staff at the Grove were determined to prove how unsuitable an outdoor shopping center is for large-scale live performance. Judging by the amount of space allotted for the crowd, the venue must have anticipated a crowd closer to 100 people than 10,000.
The staff attempted to keep fans off of the sidewalks by erecting large black curtains to prevent enjoyment from those vantage points. Well, this may not be a free country anymore, but this was supposed to be a free Backstreet Boys concert. "Mister Fire Marshall, sir," the crowd's actions seemed to say, "tear down this curtain."
Eventually, the power of the people won and we watched the concert from the sidewalk in front of the movie theater as God intended: through the lenses of our iPhones.
Settling in, I asked the people around me to tell me about their favorite Backstreet Boy so I could better understand who these individuals were. There's Brian, the talented one; Kevin, the old one; Nick, the one with the younger brother; AJ, the badboy; and Howie, the one nobody seemed to mention without prodding. Nobody likes Howie. Why did they prefer the Backstreet Boys over N'Sync? The consensus seemed to be that, besides Justin Timberlake, everybody else in N'Sync was boring or untalented compared to the Backstreet Boys. Nobody liked my idea for a Howie/Chris Kirkpatrick power duo.
The show began with a screening of the group's latest music video, in which the 9/11 attacks make a surprising cameo. The song is called "In a World Like This" and alternates between the group singing on a California hillside and random couples sadly embracing in the wake of tragedy. The subtext: "See what happens when you keep the Backstreet Boys out?"
Next was the opening act, a 19-year-old girl who we were told has many subscribers on YouTube. She lip-synched in an outfit that reminded me of Ace Ventura in the mental hospital. She seemed like a nice girl who probably has a good perspective on herself and the world. Haha, just kidding, she's a 19-year-old YouTube star opening for the Backstreet Boys, she is probably the meanest person on earth.
At the conclusion of her performance, the host came out and reminded us that she got her start on YouTube.com. The host literally said the following words: "So, all of you dads out there, that's why you should sign your daughters up for a YouTube account." This is the culture we built for ourselves.
Finally, it was time for the main event. The host made a big deal of it being the five original members. Of course, if it were the true original lineup, they would have also had Lou Pearlman, but he is in jail. So just the original performers had to suffice. The Backstreet Boys took the stage and the crowd erupted. They began with a song nobody knew, but they delivered it strongly.
They sang acapella, which I was told they do frequently to prove they have actual vocal talent and aren't lip-synching. They harmonized pleasantly and danced skillfully. They spoke a lot about the new album and reminded us of their other dates in Southern California where you could pay to see them. They sang eight songs and only two of them were "the hits." They exited the stage without an encore. Yet nobody left disappointed.
Walking out, I spotted badboy AJ hiding in a corner smoking a cigarette. I tried to approach him to get an autograph or picture for my friend, but he was already booking it back inside with his bodyguard. So I jogged after him. I was able to get his attention on the other end of the hall but ended up stonewalled by their security. I came away empty-handed, but for a moment I experienced that feeling of being 12 again. I guess you could say, I gave all I had to give. See, I had wanted it that way, but he was larger than life, and now I know the meaning of being lonely. Maybe someday they'll quit playing games with my heart long enough to see the shape of my heart, and that shape is a square Hot-N-Ready pizza box.
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