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A GROUP OF TIRED BOYS HAVE LOST THEIR INNOCENCE

Are we there yet?

Almost.

It's nearly the end of the creative line for the Backstreet Boys, who performed Tuesday night at the HSBC Arena. Sure, the place was packed with fans. But the group has lost nearly all the wide-eyed charm that made it appealing in the first place. And the act didn't demonstrate any new talents that would suggest a promising future.

The show was a makeup performance for a July date that was canceled due to member A.J. McLean's alcohol rehab stint. And indeed his recovery provided a bizarre subtext to the night. Twice it was announced that the night marked his 76th day of sobriety. And one fan even wore a shirt reading "A.J.: We're All So Proud." Ironically, this message seemed to speak to suffocating attention that fans give to the band members' personal lives, which is perhaps one of the things that drove the guy to drink in the first place.

One unfortunate result of delaying the concert was that it had the effect of making all of the group's tricks seem borrowed and stale. The guys made their entrance onto the stage, which had upraised wings like a jetliner, on elevated platforms in the same way that Janet Jackson did in her August show. And later they suddenly appeared on a platform in the center of the arena, which would've been exciting if 'N Sync hadn't pulled the same stunt three months ago at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

But this wasn't the only thing wrong with the production. The costumes ranged from drab to silly. The act started out wearing black pants with long black capes, which made the singers look like they were auditioning for one of "The Matrix" sequels. And then they donned bright red smocks as if they were about to serve the catch of the day at a seafood restaurant.

Additionally, the show was marred by a sound system that was so muffled that the group might have well have been performing next door. Even the Boys' best tunes -- "Quit Playing Games With My Heart," "As Long As You Love Me," "I Want It That Way," "More Than That" -- were rendered lifeless by the poor audio.

The main problem with the Boy's show, however, is that it seemed so, well, adult. The group's sappy, and increasingly overwrought, ballads dominated the set list. And even the staging seemed needlessly mature. The group styled itself as a doo-wop outfit for the meandering "I'll Never Break Your Heart." And later the members even did a dated cane dance that would've made Sammy Davis Jr. proud. Gone was any of the youthful energy the group had when it first appeared on the late 90s post-grunge pop landscape, nearly inaugurating the teen pop era.

At one point, the guys played a video skit showing themselves aged fifty years, but still performing their same old shtick. It would've been funny, if it didn't ring so plausibly true.

e-mail: cseymour@buffnews.com

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