Kicking off the show was 19-year-old Krystal Harris, whose white grand piano, spiked punk rock hairdo, nose ring and general sense of melodrama made for an unlikely Sid Vicious-Liberace hybrid stage presence. Greeting the crowd of early comers she said, "I heard y'all call it Hotlanta up in here." Rule No. 1 for visiting musicians: For the love of all that's sacred, never use the word "Hotlanta." She rounded out her set with her version of Mariah Carey's version of the Jackson Five's "I'll Be There."
After a cancellation by scheduled openers Destiny's Child, an interesting choice of fill-in acts was made. With the lights lowered and the anxious girls in attendance screaming and waving varied "Nick is a hottie" posters, Nelly and his St. Lunatics crew took the stage. It took 10 minutes for the poor folks in the echoed recesses of the Dome to realize the St. Louis rappers weren't the Backstreet Boys. The chirp of crickets leading up to mega-hit "Country Grammar" seemed to hint at the fact that this was not the most "off the chain" hip-hop audience Nelly had ever seen.
With the opening acts out of the way, and the lights once again dimmed, a surge of palpable nervous energy arose. While often simplistically portrayed as some one-dimensional screaming mass, Backstreet Boys fans prove to be impressively discriminating in their individual tastes.
"Nick's best feature is definitely his butt -- you need to make sure you print that," said Hillary, one of my insider fan sources in row 14. She and her friend Natalie had won tickets to the Backstreet Boys show by digging through Burger King dumpsters in order to collect over 4,000 used food wrappers -- a truly definitive act of American pop culture.
My Backstreet primer was cut short, however, when the lights once again fell dark on the mammoth set. With its sail-like triangular drape backdrop, and a hull-shaped platform that came to a point at both ends, the Backstreet Boys stage resembled a big, futuristic pirate ship -- one whose brig I most certainly would not like to be locked up in.
The show began with an intense video/pyrotechnic display. In a considerate gesture, a series of flaming asteroids burned my retinas enough to proportionately match the ear damage I had received from the ongoing blanket of hysterical shrieks. When the properly styled and oiled fivesome ascended on hydraulic lifts through the bottom of the stage, the screaming gave me a whole new understanding of what Lucifer himself must sound like.
It's only fair to note that the combined spectacle was actually very entertaining -- the visual effects, large-scale choreographed sequences, smooth live band and high-energy audience made it more appropriate to think of this as an event than a concert. And the B-Boys themselves were entertaining in a painful kind of way, like that bad TV show you secretly love to hate. By the time the Boys broke it down to the opening greeting, following a particularly flamboyant rendering of "Larger Than Life," I was ready to give this whole thing a second chance.
"It's great to be back in Atlanta," said Howie, the sensitive one. "Or should I call it 'Hotlanta'?" No, you really shouldn't (see rule No. 1). There goes that whole "second chance" thing.
As the night progressed, the trademark wardrobe changes were also in full effect. Highlights included a glossy white vinyl tuxedo that can only be described as "CDC formalwear" -- you know, something you would wear if you had to look really sharp while handling anthrax and other dangerous bacteria. Then there was a studded, tarnished silver "apocalyptic future" ensemble -- something Mad Max might have worn if he were gay. In an act of shameless titillation, the band actually invited the audience on a behind-the-scenes video tour of one of their wardrobe changes, where we got to see how they really act. That is, how they really act when being broadcast for 40,000 people.
So I guess that was about it. I think there might have been some singing in there somewhere, but I forget. I think I was too busy being entertained to notice.
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