Backstreet Boys Put On Larger-Than-Life Tour Opener

Crowd-frenzying set features pyrotechnics and even a little politics

SUNRISE, Florida — The Backstreet Boys kicked off their Black & Blue world tour Monday night with a bang — dozens of bangs, as fireworks and flash pots exploded inside the National Car Rental Center.

An "Armageddon"-like video of Earth being pelted by asteroids played on a giant round projection screen, in the center of a glittered black backdrop that resembled a galaxy. The rapid-fire pyrotechnics included red flares that shot from the rafters and blew up in mid-air, and blue blowtorch-like flames that shot from the stage.

The sold-out audience of 15,000 — mostly made up of teenage girls and their middle-aged moms — screamed with delight as each bang racheted up the frenzy.

The payoff: The Boys, clad in uniforms of long black leather coats and pants, rising up out of the dry-ice smoke on five columns, saluted their faithful before coming back down to earth and ripping into "Everyone," from their latest album, Black & Blue.

They followed that with a seamless transition into "Larger Than Life," from their 1999 release, Millennium. Backstreet — Brian Littrell, A.J. McLean, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson and Nick Carter — added muscle to the stage show with 10 dancers and a seven-piece band.

The opening promised a larger-than-life spectacle was about to unfold. And the Boys — who hail from Orlando, Florida, and have reigned the past few years as an international boy-band sensation — didn't disappoint. The 18-song set, almost two hours, was heavy on songs from Black & Blue and Millennium, along with a handful of crowd favorites from Backstreet Boys.

The show, the first of a three-night sold-out stand in South Florida, was relatively glitch-free for a tour opener. It was heavily choreographed, and the crowd screamed approval with every synchronized dance routine and every staged sketch.

The one trouble spot in the production: the sound mix. Thunderous, pounding bass at times rolled right over the Boys' infectious, soaring five-part harmonies.

The Boys worked it hard from the stage, repeatedly making extra efforts to get closer to the audience. The show featured a midconcert segment during which video cameras followed the band under the stage into its dressing room to let the audience see one of the six costume changes in progress. After some adolescent hijinks, including a Silly String and water-gun fight, the arena went black.

When the lights came up the band was on a much smaller, round stage at the rear of the floor seats and behind the soundboard, where the Boys sang their hit "I'll Never Break Your Heart."

"It was like a dream to be that close to them,’" said Elys Viera, 15, of Miami, who was helping her friend Vivian Rey, of Hialeah, Florida, celebrate her 14th birthday.

"I cried," Rey said of her close encounter. "They are so perfect. So cute and so sweet."

They, like others in the crowd, largely dismissed recent speculation that maybe the Boys — whose oldest members are in their late 20s now — are losing their multiplatinum super boy-band appeal. Though Black & Blue failed to match the first-week sales success of 'NSYNC's No Strings Attached and spent just two weeks in the #1 spot on Billboard's pop albums chart, the screaming crowd showed no signs of flagging devotion. And the band showed no hints of weariness or that the act is wearing thin.

If their worldview is becoming broader with maturity, Backstreet seem determined to take their young fans along. In the midst of sometimes treacly, sometimes oversweeping pop, the Boys got political with "The Answer to Our Life." They sang the tune while a video played images of endangered owls, bald eagles and whales, scenes of pollution pouring from smokestacks and drainage pipes, and old-growth forests being bulldozed.

Richardson introduced the song, saying it had a "save the world kind of vibe."

"Watch the screens," he said. "It's a wake-up call."