Backstreet Boys at NYC's Hammerstein Ballroom: Aggressive fans, tears, and, oh yeah, a concert

backstreet-boysImage Credit: Larry Marano/Getty ImagesAnyone doubting the seemingly eternal appeal of the boy band era needed only to scope out the line wrapping around the block outside Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom shortly before 6:30 p.m. last night, hours before a Backstreet Boys show. In the battle of fans’ evolved musical taste vs. nostalgia, nostalgia will always come out on top. The man behind me in line was so bemused by the fans braving the rain for a chance to be eight inches closer to Nick, Howie, A.J., and Brian that he turned to his girlfriend to say, “There are going to be crazy girls, of course. It’s a boy band.”

His statement echoed in my head as I walked ever-so-confidently into the general admission ballroom. Having been to three Backstreet Boys concerts in my youth (if you consider five years ago “my youth”), I felt like I had grown up since those days. I was sure that much of the obnoxiousness, fan bickering, and “crazy girls” I had encountered in the past would be subdued, if not completely absent. I was wrong. It was, in fact, worse than before.

Some of the aggressive fans had morphed into aggressive moms who were intent on protecting their concert-newbie young. Then there were those fans who seemed to have gained not children, but an insatiable thirst for alcohol for since the prime of their Backstreet days. Watching the two crowds together was like watching foamy-mouthed hyenas searching for a stray wildebeest. (I’m not sure which group was which animal in that metaphor.) I witnessed two significant shove- and scream-fests during the show, one of which resulted in tears. Add to that fun the fact that a mom punched me twice in the shoulder as I attempted to flee the ruckus, and you can color me bewildered. I envy not the kind security guards who tried to talk the madness down. For the most part, their threats of ejection from the venue worked, but not without stink-eye exchanges between the battling girls. Perhaps my side (stage right) was particularly aggressive, but I don’t think that was the case. I overheard three other scuffle stories as I walked out of the building at the end of the show. Next time I see the Backstreet Boys, I plan on bringing brass knuckles for my protection.

On to the show itself: The 22-song setlist included mostly old tunes and, I believe, none from 2007’s Unbreakable. At a concert where ticket sales relied on fans from the Boys’ more popular days, this was a smart move. As expected, the four remaining band members (Kevin Richardson left in 2006) were on-point performance-wise. These guys pride themselves on their vocal chops, and when you see them live, it’s easy to figure out why. A.J. McLean, known to the greater public for his 2001 rehab stint, has always had the strongest pipes in the band, and he especially shone last night during “Incomplete.” Few singers I’ve seen can put so much power behind a single note that the veins on their neck pop out, yet still manage to sound musical and well-toned.

I did feel that the band has yet to properly adjust to the smaller venues they find themselves in these days. Their ground-based choreography was often hard to see from most places on the general admission floor. Much of the band’s movement would have been better suited for large stadiums with huge screens on either side of the stage. Yet my guest, a Backstreet concert virgin, told me that she appreciated the Boys’ animated stage presence and interaction. After watching so many concerts and performances from a single group, one sometimes forgets to appreciate the small things that they bring to the stage. There’s still nothing quite like the relationship Backstreet shares with its fans: It’s personal, and it makes you feel less like a member of a crowd and more like a member of a (sometimes violent) club.

I suppose that’s why it was strange to hear McLean howl the kicker phrase to the band’s 1997 hit “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” at the beginning of the show. For many fans, Backstreet never really went anywhere. I imagine the girl on the third floor mezzanine seats who was halfway over the protective railing during much of the concert would agree.

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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Comments (20 total) Add your comment
  • Meg

    This makes me really excited for their performance in Cincinnati on August 28th… Hopefully I won’t see any catfights since it’s not GA

    • crispy

      These guys are complete garbage compared to Justin Bieber! You want to really see breakouts at concerts? Try one of his!

      • nat

        We dont want to see a catfight at a gay justin concert… We want to see real talent at the backstreet boys concert.Im going to see them in SF yay

      • sally

        What your seeing at Bieber concerts now is nothing compared to the crowds the BSB and NSync drew in their prime. A Bieber appearance that draws 5000 girls to a radio appearance or small show used to draw 40,000 to a BSB or NSync appearance back in the day. Bieber will be lucky if at the age of BSB or JT if he is still drawing the numbers they still draw today.

      • Lori Lokken

        LOL! How can you compare Justin Bieber to the BSB’s? WOW!! Just wow! Justin sings like a girl.

      • Ana


    • mscisluv

      Hey Meg – thanks for the tip that they’ll be in Cincinnati. I hadn’t realized they were coming here, and now I can’t wait to buy my ticket!

  • Sarah

    I went to four BSB concerts from ’98-’01, and almost got trampled more than once. Thanks Sandra for the hilarious account of boy band nostalgia.

  • Stacy

    I went to the show in Miami 2 weeks ago. The 12 year old me was just as satisfied as the 25 year old me :)

    • Ugly Jenny

      I was at that show too and the VIP soundcheck! They’re so amazing and I’m so excited for the cruise in December!

  • Michael

    I look at Backstreet Boys today like I viewed the Village People back at the beginning of the ’90s, where something tacky tries to rememrge. A maturer image is never a bad thing considering so many acts sell out to younger acts. The ’80s are still by far the most popular “retro decade”, and really the late ’90s never really left us yet (Internet culture, cellphones, instant messaging (texting is basically just another method), but I still find it worthwile not just recall a not-so-distant era, but to reintroduce the group for a younger generation.

  • jets

    Backstreet Boys popularity (really? still?) is to proof of women’s stupidity, as Playboy Playmates being called “artists” is proof of male’s stupidity.

  • elle

    i thought last night’s show was great and possibly one of my top ever. i’ve learned my lesson & avoided GA, but the view from the 1st mezzanine was great! excited to see them come back later in the summer too.

  • Alice

    I loved the BSB in their day. My fav fav boy band in that pop craze then

  • Anna

    Last night’s show at Hammerstein was AMAZING! I’ve seen the boys MANY times, but this concert has topped them all! They were so great musically, vocally, and rhythmically!! I was in the 2nd row and LOVED every minute of it!

  • Kenny

    I’m a guy and I love BSB. I saw them in Orlando, a couple weeks ago and they sounded amazing. It was my first concert ever, and I enjoyed it very much. I’ll probably be one of the people still cheering for them even 10 years from now.

  • avenger

    I’m sooo excited to see them in concert this summer. Though I’ve been a huge Backstreet fan since I was a kid, I have never seen them in concert before. I am tooo excited, its going to be nostalgic and fun!

  • Lauren

    I used to be a huge BSB fan back in the day, and I still was until a few years ago when they came to CT during a huge snow storm. Roads were blocked everywhere and streets were closed, but they still held the show for the few people that showed up and we never got refunds. I was sort of upset because it was dangerous to travel and yet, they still wanted people to brave the weather for a glimpse. I don’t hold it against them because it prob wasn’t their fault, but it did turn me off from liking them. It just left a bad taste in my mouth. I’ll just look back findly on the good old teenage days!

  • figo

    This show was incredible as every show is. I have been a fan for the past 17 years and I have not missed a tour yet (sometimes have seen them multiple times each tour). Don’t really understand why women can’t just go and enjoy the show..I will say it again these are women not young girls..relax have A DRINK and just enjoy the boys (men) we all love to see perform. As for the Justin Bieber comments c’mon lets leave them off of this page. You can’t really compare a 16 yr old just starting out to guys that have literally been around a LONG time and have proven their vocal capability and dance moves! seriously…

  • Contracting Info

    I do not even know how I stopped up right here, but I thought this post was great. I don’t understand who you’re however certainly you are going to a famous blogger when you are not already. Cheers!

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