LOS ANGELES For most of the opening night of his first solo tour, Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean stayed in character as his alter ego Johnny No Name, a British troublemaker from Nashville who covers artists ranging from Stone Temple Pilots to Brian McKnight.
But during the final moments of the Wiltern Theatre show, McLean gave his doppelgänger a rest, shedding his pimplike white suit to emerge as himself. As the singer took the stage shirtless and clad in baggy jeans, the shrill screams from the 95-percent-female crowd reached a deafening level.
But they would only get louder, when fellow Backstreet Boy Howie D joined McLean for a finale rendition of the Commodores' "Brick House."
With McLean's seven-piece band supporting them, McLean and D got the house dancing as they traded verses on the '70s hit. As the song wound down, the pair took turns making pelvis thrusts to the drumbeats, with McLean challenging D to "do it 10 times, you old fart."
But the fun soon ended, as a large man wearing a shirt that read "Police" handcuffed McLean and led him offstage.
Apparently, McLean is still held responsible for the actions of Johnny No Name. As the singer explained in a press conference earlier Monday, his alter ego is an always-in-trouble Brit from Nashville who is only allowed out of jail to perform concerts.
"He's on constant probation," McLean said. "Every time he does a solo show he gets off his probation, and then at the end of the show he has to go back to jail. I don't know what he does, but he's always in trouble."
The show which also included covers of Tonic and Rage Against the Machine, other classics and a few Backstreet Boys songs began with the same large man leading McLean onstage and removing his handcuffs. The group launched into Stone Temple Pilots' single "Down" (RealAudio excerpt), with McLean, then clad in a green suit, belting out the tune as he moved about the stage.
The show kept the rock steady through the next number, a cover of Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name" (RealAudio excerpt). "Peace," McLean said at the end of the song, before running offstage for a costume change.
"The beginning was the best because he showed he can rock," said 15-year-old fan Courtney Lucas afterward. "Johnny No Name's sexy, but A.J. is definitely sexier."
Emerging again in his white suit, the singer toned things down for several songs, including his own "If You Knew What I Knew." McLean wrote the song for the Backstreet Boys' 10-times-platinum Millennium album, but the song was left off the LP and appeared only as a B-side.
"This is the first time I've been to Los Angeles, and it's quite nice," McLean told the crowd in a flawed British accent. "I have just one question for you: What's my name?"
"A.J.!" the bulk of the crowd replied.
"No, A.J. is from the Backstreet Boys," McLean corrected them. "What's my name?"
This time, the crowd response was divided between "A.J.!" and "Johnny!"
Also during the ballad set, McLean invited R&B singer Krystal Harris, the first artist signed to the Backstreet Boys' label, for a duet on McKnight's "Back at One" (RealAudio excerpt).
Things heated up again with a rendition of George Thorogood & the Destroyers' "Bad to the Bone," which McLean sang while strumming a two-string guitar. "I don't play any instruments at all," he explained. "This way I don't mess up. ... I feel like Michael J. Fox in 'Back to the Future.' " Apparently expecting the tune, several fans threw bones onstage before he began the number.
The crowd showed particular gratitude for the Backstreet Boys' "Hey, Mr. DJ (Keep Playin' This Song)," off their 1996 self-titled album. McLean divided the audience into two sections for a call-and-response of the song's title. The series of upbeat dance songs culminated with a cover of Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music," featuring a section of "Don't Want You Back," from Millennium.
"Be cool, be real and behave, baby," McLean told the crowd.
The Johnny No Name tour, which benefits VH1's youth charity the Save the Music Foundation, is scheduled to wrap up on April 9 in New York.