Backstreet Boys - Comerica Theatre - 9/5/2013
Because the way they act in 2013, outside the venue and away from the initiated, is a disguise. It's passing. Inside the venue, the people want the Backstreet Boys, and the Backstreet Boys oblige them: Matching outfits, Flying V choreography with hat-business interludes, squeaky-voiced between-songs banter. They'd sell you minidiscs, if they could.
It's jarring, but it's the right move--like any secret identity, their 2013 Backstreet Men personae are a little too weak to withstand careful examination. They wrote the last album themselves, as they're quick to note before every song they play off it, and the result is a barrage of almost identical-sounding synthpop songs with super-earnest lyrics. Did you know: They found the truth in a child's eyes? (The word "inspiring" came up a lot in the pre-song patter.)
In A World Like This doesn't hold up well in a set full of songs that were constructed in a lab to make girls scream during concerts, and while the 15-year-old harmonies were still perfect throughout they were visibly (and fairly, I guess) more interested in their new material than they were some of the older ballads.
But the serious looks and the casual dress and the second-tier inspiration-pop are all necessary, at this point, because a nostalgia-piquing comeback is a trick you can only do once on a national level. Now that we've been making "more like Backstreet Men" jokes for longer than the Backstreet Boys were unstoppable CD-selling machines, they've been roughly assimilated into the present. We have videos where they aren't carrying huge, goofy cell phones now. We've seen Nick Carter's reality show.
So on the Today Show and in music videos and doing whatever else they do, they have to be Mature, Inspiring Artists. They've come back; Twitter can only freak out about that once.
But theatre-fulls of individual Backstreet Boys fans can freak out about that more or less indefinitely. Until every last '90s Kid has satisfied her curiosity, they can surreptitiously take this show on the road.
More photos, the setlist, and the Critic's Notebook on Page 3