Backstreet's back, and the Boys let everybody know it.
The quintet basked in the spotlight Friday during a nearly two-hour concert at Irvine's Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. The performance, met by equal parts screaming and sweating, was part of the group's "In a World Like This" tour, a celebration of their 20th anniversary.
An estimated 16,000 ticket holders poured into the venue in anticipation of seeing the 1990s icons. Not surprisingly, the winding line was filled with teens and their excited, high-pitched chatter. What was unexpected, though, was the sight of middle-aged women and parents, on the arms of their now-grown kids, wearing Backstreet Boys T-shirts.
While some stragglers looked over exorbitant items at snack stalls and added to the queue at the merchandise store, die-hard fans, like myself, made a beeline for their seats, willing time to go faster.
Up first was Baylee, Brian Littrell's young son, who came onstage flanked by his doting parents and treated the half-full auditorium to a few tunes.
If DJ Pauly D — whose music I've avoided so far thanks to the foul taste created by his appearance on "Jersey Shore" — and Jesse McCartney could have seen me, they might have taken me for their perfect fist-pumping and hooting fan, but the truth was, my mind was backstage with the Boys.
Even as I joined new, equally hyper friends in the rows ahead and behind me, my mind was unable to wrap itself around this moment. For a girl born in a little Indian town, who would climb onto the nearest surface and frolick every time the Backstreet Boys came on MTV, Friday was an out-of-body experience. I remember plastering my walls with their young faces and using No. 2 pencils to wind prized cassettes that, after years of abuse, wheezed their final notes into my decrepit Walkman.
And there I was, on the verge of watching a band that has sold 130 million records worldwide. "How?" I kept wondering.
When my favorite artists climbed upstairs and onto the set to the accompaniment of the "James Bond" theme song, it was as if the proverbial record had skipped to a stop. My hands were frozen on my cheeks as I gave them a glassy, wide-eyed stare.
But when they started out with old favorites like "The Call," "Don't Want You Back" and "Incomplete," I was out of my seat in a jiffy, singing (read: screeching) numbers that I was astounded to recall perfectly.
The next several songs were a mix of past and recent releases, including "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely," "Permanent Stain," "We've Got It Goin' On" and "Breathe" — although, come to think of it, I wasn't aware of breathing at all.
Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson — who ripped the seat of his pants moments after the performance began — Howie Dorough, A.J. McLean and Brian Littrell — with a GoPro camera strapped to his chest— took turns chatting and joking with the audience, as they reminisced and shook hands with lucky admirers squeezed into the mosh pit.
The Boys also welcomed VIP guests — a privilege that had me turning every imaginable shade of green — and Laguna Beach artist Wyland onstage. The marine life painter swayed in time with their tunes while adding to a mural for charity.
Seated on high stools, clutching instruments, the band then launched into "Safest Place to Hide," a cappella-style, followed by acoustic versions of "10,000 Promises," "Quit Playing Games" and more.
My already full heart swelled even more when Carter discussed "Madeline" — a new number penned to raise awareness about gay teen suicides.
The band members, who have always been considered cute, were now handsome men. They shared tidbits about "In a World Like This," which dropped in August and catapulted to No. 5 in the Billboard 200. This is the Backstreet Boys' ninth consecutive top 10 album. Sade is the only other artist who's achieved this streak; Led Zeppelin reached eight.
This is the vocal group's first independent venture and also its highest-charting set since "Never Gone" soared to No. 3 in 2005.
Tormenting the audience with a brief interlude, the band returned with encore action-packed renditions of "Everybody" and "Larger than Life."
McLean, who toted a camera atop a mount, took pictures of the audience's flickering phone lights in the darkness and asked everyone to wave and cheer. The footage may be included in a Backstreet Boys documentary that is currently in the works.
Although no one warned them what life would be like at the top, the musicians said ardent supporters who have stuck with them since 1993 have made the journey worthwhile.
As one of the Backstreet Boys' most popular hits — and my personal favorite — says, "I don't care who you are/ Where you're from/ What you did/ As long as you love me." And love them we do.