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[whitespace] Millennium Men

New boys on the block bring Backstreet to Main Street with a surprisingly spirited show

By Rob Pratt

AMONG BUBBLE-GUM pop sensations, the Backstreet Boys have ridden the "boy band" phenomenon further than most, and with the explosive debut in June of their second album, Millennium, the five teen idols have stepped up from darlings on MTV's "Total Request Live" to pop powerhouse able to launch a Top-10 hit with a single "Whoa, baby."

Of course, they've been dogged from the start by all of the usual complaints levied by grownups at teen-oriented pop ("I like to call them the Spice Boys," Chris Rock chided on last month's MTV Music Awards), but their fantastic show at San Jose Arena Oct. 21, the first of a two-night stop in town, did much to squash characterizations of them as soulless wonders.

In a two-hour set paced with seemingly focus-group-tested precision, the Boys sang and danced with charming abandon, turning what might have been a bland, Disneyfied extravaganza into an unmistakably musical event with moments of raw emotional power.

That's not to say that they didn't indulge in literally over-the-top theatrical trickery. Their grand entrance--accompanied by the "Death Star Theme" from Star Wars--brought them to stage soaring above the crowd on wires, landing just in time for the downbeat of their fast-rising current hit "Larger Than Life" (now at No. 30 on Billboard's Hot 100) and finishing the tune with pillars of magnesium-red flame flaring from each corner of the five-sided stage.

On "Quit Playing Games With My Heart," the runaway hit from 1997's Backstreet Boys, they took to the air again, flying out from every side of the stage and tossing teddy bears to the crowd as their rock-solid band jammed at full-tilt.

With the biggest album release ever--Millennium beat out Garth Brooks' latest, going gold with 1.1 million copies sold in its first week--the Backstreet Boys have already done the seemingly impossible by following up their smash debut with an even bigger record. And though Millennium has enough momentum to carry them well into 2000, the real challenge comes when they finish up touring and head back to the studio.

Despite the boyish looks of Backstreet baby Nick Carter, all of them would have been rotated out of Menudo long ago, and a couple (I'm not gonna name names) seem only a few years shy of the age when they'd have to make their final curtain call in the movie Logan's Run.

To top Millennium, they have to grow up and probably bring to the foreground much of the sublimated sexuality in their music just as Madonna did when she morphed from material girl to blonde bombshell or Janet Jackson did with Rhythm Nation.

But for now, the Backstreet Boys have the voice of a generation, an American cohort even more massive than their Baby Boomer parents. Just hitting college and their prime pop culture consuming years, this is a generation--if the Backstreet Boys are any indication--as full of aw-shucks sincerity and the-world-is-mine innocence as Generation Xers are with cagey irony.

Where their parents as youths turned their cultural muscle toward social and political movements, these Re-Boomers are media savvy and loaded with disposable income, warming up to spend the spoils of the biggest economic boom in American history and ready to party like it's 1999.

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Web extra to the October 21-27, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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