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Are we not men? Backstreet Boys at SPAC.

photo:Joe Putrock

Attack of the Shrieking Teenyboppers
By Erik Hage

Backstreet Boys

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 7

The first thing you notice are the text messages on the back screen: epithets of love projected out to the preshow crowd in what comes off as a sort of cyber graffiti. They run from the typical (“can i have a shot [sic] out to jackie & kristin : ),” “Bribn [sic] we love u!!!”) to the inexplicable (“AJ thanx for helping me get better”) to the unintentionally comedic (“Derek loves Howie”) to the frighteningly demanding (LOOK AT US!!!!).

This is not yours or your mother’s SPAC; this is something . . . different. When most large crowds erupt, they roar. But this crowd breaks out in a uniformly high, shrill tsunami of screaming that envelops everything and works its way injuriously into the tympanic membrane.

The audience (no surprise here) is primarily adolescent girls, though there is a smattering of 21- to 26-year-olds, a healthy crop of chaperoning parents and the random budding young metrosexual (hair gel-plastered, tight shirt clinging to bony adolescent chest, always alone). But for the most part, Saratoga Spa State Park is bubbling furiously with young-woman energy. Long before the Backstreet Boys have awakened from their afternoon naps or begun picking at the backstage deli platter, the crowd is quite simply cranked. (See the 36-year-old critic gauging escape pathways.)

Singer Kaci Brown has the onerous task of being the unannounced opener for the opener, singing to a backing track with two male dancers flanking her with spastic movements. She is largely ignored, and clearly needs some work on her banter. “How about it for those surfer boys?!” she cries at one point. (Hopefully, her touring school tutor will point out woefully landlocked Saratoga on a map later on.)

Obnoxiously whiny, posturing and arrogant guitar-pop band the Click Five follow. They wear suits and ties. They have shaggy hair. (You get the drill.) If nothing else they leave you salivating for the next act, and point to the ever-shrinking divide between boy bands and a good portion of the young power-pop and emo acts.

A huge, black curtain had been concealing a good portion of the stage throughout the night, and as roadies rush around making preparations, the crowd offers mini-eruptions at every quiver of the fabric. Guys with handheld spotlights clamber up into the considerable hanging framework. A blond head is glimpsed exiting one of the half-dozen or so buses parked to the side. A nearby section of crowd blazes up into shrieking.

Then, finally, after a massive gothy intro pumps out of the huge, subby sound system (more suitable for throbbing out trance in Ibiza), the curtain descends and the Backstreet Boys come marching down a high, tiered stairway, doing a sort of high-kneed, blank-faced, choreographed marching. (Political statement? Who knows . . . at this point disorientation has fully set in.) There’s an actual band—two double-tiered Korgs, guitar, bass, drums—backing the Boys in a tight funky groove, and they break out in what they do best: Making that I’m-so-into-it face, crouching down, trading vocals and moving automatically through their choreography. (For the record, Nick Carter was absolutely making love to Metroland photographer Joe Putrock’s camera.)

Frankly, the songs from the new album are missing something. (Insert punchline here.) They lack the immediacy of the group’s ’90s hits. And, true, these guys are a little long in the tooth to be doing this. (Carter semi-conceals his spreading posterior in a pair of baggy army pants, while Kevin Richardson—the gaunt, vampire-looking one—is my age if he’s a day.) Also, the singers seem a little (how would Randy Jackson put it?) pitchy at times. But when they pick up the recognizable, melodically potent hits from yesteryear (“Shape of My Heart,” “I Want it That Way”) one understands for a moment—albeit from a distant, objective vantage point—the onetime appeal of this group.

Carrying On

Crosby, Stills and Nash

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, July 29

We hung out on Broadway before Friday’s show and ate at Little India, which I regretted approximately 55 minutes later. The curry, albeit fantastic, pulsed through my stomach like heated mercury and sent me into the scrub in the Route 50 lot. Sometimes to get through life you have to do it like a bear. My wife cannot, but has accepted my ilk with the sort of resigned amusement that one displays for squirrels at a bird feeder. Speaking of squirrels, General Electric was on hand inside the SPAC gates, handing out hand fans replete with tiresome logo, not content to poison only the Hudson but now our green spaces with 5,000 of these eyesores per evening. But we plopped our asses down in the amphitheater anyway, wondering if CSN had any fire left in their bellies (I certainly had one in mine).

If there were doubts (there were) that these three voices were predestined to forever collide in mesmerizing harmony, such suspicions were abandoned the minute the trio casually walked on with their five-man backline and broke into “Carry On” and the glowing “Questions.” I mean, at least one of these guys is eligible for Medicare already, and yet they sound every bit as angelic as they did standing together in the muck of Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in 1969. David Crosby, a chemical titan, somehow seemed the most lucid of them all, delivering a haunting “Delta” and the timeless “Guinnevere,” during which the lines on his face disappeared, his visage that of a young Crosby in fringed leather. Steven Stills gets slightly more roly-poly each year, his mop of windswept hair, Hawaiian button-down and dusky vocals indicative of a possible boat drink session before the show, but it made his frenetic Strat work that much more exciting, particularly during his own “For What It’s Worth.”

One of the more pleasant aspects of seeing this legendary act is the lack of pretense, the obvious pleasure they share in each other’s company. They are innately comfortable with their repertoire after more than 30 years, and the casual nature of the performance was as if we were watching them rehearse the show rather than actually perform it. Crosby, with baseball cap and hands in his pockets, meandered over to keyboardist James Raymond (his son) when it was someone else’s turn to shine (during Nash’s bouncing “Chicago,” for example). Stills at times looked on from a darkened corner only to return and deliver scorchers like Otis Reading’s “Old Man Trouble,” but the full-band treatment shone brightest. “Long Time Gone,” “Love the One You’re With” and “Southern Cross” are meditations now, really, rootsy affirmations of love, hope and battle lines drawn, and standard-issue war protest songs like Nash’s “Military Madness” and Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair” still have integrity, the ability to sweep away, and there we were, swept away. Braless teens, bespectacled grandparents, families, criminals, stewards of land. Squirrels and bears, swooning in the cooling summer air to the vivacious warmth of a living legend.

—Bill Ketzer


Gigantic

photo:Chris Shields

Albany usually gets the short end of the stick when it comes to “big” shows, but last Thursday (Aug. 4), the reunited Pixies took to the stage at the Egg. For those of you who missed out—that includes most of us—here’s an additional cause for lament: The legendarily noisy band performed the show acoustic (yes, you read that right) as one of two warm-up shows for their appearance at last weekend’s Newport Folk Festival. Oh, and Kim Deal chain-smoked onstage. Rad.

 

 

 

Overheard:

“If you see anybody light up or smoke up and you’re not comfortable with it, just wave down to me and I’ll handle it.”

—ultra-serious SPAC security guard talking to an usher at the BSB concert in the midst of hundreds of junior high schoolers and parents.

 

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