The Backstreet Boys packed State Farm Arena on Aug. 21, 2019 with their "DNA" tour. Photo: Ryan Fleisher/Special to the AJC

Concert review and photos: Backstreet Boys deftly navigated nostalgia and freshness at Atlanta show

Ever since the Backstreet Boys gambled on a residency in Las Vegas in 2017, their momentum has been unstoppable.

Their two-year slate of shows – reportedly the fastest-selling residency in Las Vegas history – dovetailed with a major-label record signing and the January release of their ninth U.S. studio album, “DNA.”

The accompanying tour, which kicked off its North American leg in mid-July and will traverse the U.S. and Asia through early November, is packing arenas – including State Farm Arena on Wednesday night – with an ambitious, fulfilling spectacle.

The Backstreet Boys packed State Farm Arena on Aug. 21, 2019 with their "DNA" tour. Member Brian Littrell lives in Georgia. Photo: Ryan Fleisher/Special to the AJC
Photo: Ryan Fleisher

The quintet of A.J. McLean, Kevin Richardson, Howie Dorough, Nick Carter and Georgia resident Brian Littrell retained some of the Las Vegas razzle dazzle with their slick production – an angular stage framed in lights with a pit of fans in the center, stairs that illuminated on the beat of a drum, a pair of V-shaped video screens hanging overhead and a mammoth screen behind the stage.

It all would have been a satisfying visual display on its own, but that the group crafted a 30-plus song setlist, it guaranteed that longtime disciples would be giddy and newer converts (there were plenty of parents with their kids in the packed venue) might learn some BSB history. 

They nodded to their 1996 eponymous debut with the opening “I Wanna Be With You” and quickly hit on 1999’s mega-selling “Millennium” with “Don’t Want You Back,” all supplemented with coordinated dance moves that were mostly knee bends and hip gyrations.

Backstreet Boys member Kevin Richardson is the elder statesman of the group. The Backstreet Boys packed State Farm Arena on Aug. 21, 2019 with their "DNA" tour. Photo: Ryan Fleisher/Special to the AJC
Photo: Ryan Fleisher

Since their earliest days of floppy hair and acid washed jeans, BSB presented themselves as a vocal group who spent more time practicing harmonies than handsprings. As they demonstrated late in the show during a cutesy dance segment for the coda of “All I Have to Give,” they can still glide with precision, despite all of the members except Carter, 39, sitting comfortably in their 40s.

But for a group of guys who experienced insane popularity at their commercial zenith (recapped in obligatory flashback videos) as much for their looks as their songs, it was refreshing that, even with sleek staging, BSB could focus on music.

“Get Down (You’re the One for Me)” was given its smooth pulse by a band unseen throughout the show, while “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely” and “Incomplete” paired for a swoon-a-thon accented by a dramatic video waterfall. The group’s most sublime ballad, “Shape of My Heart,” not only contains a key change that actually works, but was matched with cobalt lighting in a subtle gesture to “Black & Blue,” the 2000-era album that spawned the hit.

Backstreet Boys singer Nick Carter handled many of the leads on the group's songs. The Backstreet Boys packed State Farm Arena on Aug. 21, 2019 with their "DNA" tour. Photo: Ryan Fleisher/Special to the AJC

While the fivesome harmonized angelically throughout the two-hour show, there was some individual vocal fluctuation. McLean sounded the most robust with his soulful edge, while Carter’s distinctive nasal tone dominated many of the leads. Littrell’s hoarseness was apparent when he addressed the crowd to share the story of meeting his “Georgia peach” wife and sincerely thank fans for their 26 years of loyalty and their support of his son, Baylee, who opened the show with a set of country-pop songs; but his voice was still able to navigate a higher range.

The decision to allow each member a spotlight moment – and presentation of mostly new material – worked well and tapped into the Teen Beat adoration of devotees.

Howie Dorough remains the unassuming Backstreet Boys member. The group packed State Farm Arena on Aug. 21, 2019 with their "DNA" tour. Photo: Ryan Fleisher/Special to the AJC
Photo: Ryan Fleisher

Carter hasn’t lost his practiced sneer and penchant for hammy showmanship, the latter which was on blast during “The Way it Was.” Dorough good-naturedly asked if fans remembered which one he was before presenting “Chateau,” and McLean and Richardson shared the stage to change clothes behind partitions (“Fifteen years ago we would have done this on stage,” Richardson joked) and throw their underwear to fans in the pit (ew?) as a prelude to “Passionate.”

BSB’s a capella roots were revisited on the new “Breathe,” and the group – and fans - leaned into the sway of “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart).” 

AJ McLean sounded robust throughout when the Backstreet Boys packed State Farm Arena on Aug. 21, 2019 with their "DNA" tour. Photo: Ryan Fleisher/Special to the AJC
Photo: Ryan Fleisher

By the time the crowd might have started to sag from midtempo overload, a new injection of adrenaline arrived with a swarm of colored lasers, slick video and a recorded remix of “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” before the guys popped back onstage – all clad in white – for a party rockin’ live version of their oft-quoted 1997 smash, a zippy spin through “We’ve Got it Goin’ On” and, eventually, the show-closing “Larger Than Life.”

“Sometimes I wish I could turn back time,” BSB sings on “Quit Playing Games.” And while the group is confident in its resurgent path forward, there was nothing wrong with also marinating in some nostalgia. 

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About the Author

Melissa Ruggieri
Melissa Ruggieri
Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for the AJC. She remembers when MTV was awesome.  
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