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My first thought after grabbing my tickets from will call for the Backstreet Boys at St Paul’s Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday, June 10 was simply “What the hell am I doing here?” Looking out over the crowd, and for the first time in my life I could actually look OVER them as I was taller than most of the people there, I couldn’t help but notice that I stood out like a sore thumb: a scruffy 30-something amidst a sea of women who were predominantly dressed more for a night of hitting the clubs. The feeling of being on the outside was very strong as I watched a sea of people excitedly take selfies, making damn sure to get the stage in the shot.
That feeling washed away in the wake of the tremendous energy that the near-capacity crowd brought to bear last night for the Backstreet Boys. The show kicked off with an unexpected opening act: Brian Littrell’s 11-year old son, Baylee Thomas, rocked a few choice stylings like "My Girl,” Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy,” and The Jackson Five’s “Give Me One More Chance.” No knocking the youth, the kid’s got some pipes and the performance was a good way to warm up a crowd that was still slowly trickling into the arena.
Avril Lavigne hit the stage next, shoving more coal into the engine of this odd little nostalgia train. She got the crowd singing along to hits like “Complicated” and, yes, “Sk8er Boi.” It was something of a humbling experience to watch Avril point the microphone to the crowd and suddenly realizing I was the only person in the entire arena who didn’t know the lyrics in the midst of a crowd of thousands all singing along.
Finally, the Backstreet Boys took to the stage, and in a lot of ways it was like traveling back in time. The choreography may have been a bit more stiff and dull at moments, but all five of the guys are performers who thrive in front of a massive audience. Each of them moved with a freedom and grace that was incredibly entertaining when they let their guard down and took some liberties outside their choreography.
The Backstreet Boys were charming and engaging, and whether they were actually having fun or just able to fake it from years of practice, their overall charisma held the audience's attention. It seemed that almost everyone in that arena was put in touch with something from another moment in their lives, and even though the Backstreet Boys are all roughly in their 40s, they tapped into their youth and brought back that vibrant energy from nearly 20 years ago.
Surreal is really the only appropriate word to describe the entire Backstreet Boys experience. As a boy band over a decade removed from their prime, one might think that this tour would be some sort of sad nostalgia cash grab and that everyone involved would be phoning it in. Yet this show was absolutely nothing like that. It was all energy and passion in front of a crowd that may as well have been in a form of suspended animation for all these years. To call this just a play on nostalgia is to downplay both the work that the Backsteet Boys put into this tour and the genuine affection that these fans have for the group. As a person with no special love for this type of atmosphere, it was refreshing to see a fanbase that was not any part jaded, who refused to put up any fronts, and who absolutely gave everything they had for almost every moment of last night’s performance. And it was equally refreshing to see a group of performers do their best to engage every fan, acknowledge every sign, and return every gesture.
When I entered the Xcel Energy Center, I had no idea what I was getting into, but I thought for sure I wouldn’t like it. When I left, I was a little sad that it was over. The Backstreet Boys absolutely killed it. If that doesn’t blow your mind a little bit, I’m not sure what will.
Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.