Backstreet Boys are back, and larger than life, at first Milwaukee concert in 14 years

Piet Levy
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Being a Backstreet Boys fan in Milwaukee ain't nothin' but a heartbreak. 

OK, that's a bit melodramatic — although admittedly "melodramatic" is a recurring mood for the boy band. 

But the Boys, unlike many of their peers, have never really gone away, going on world tour after world tour, always skipping over Milwaukee. 

No more. On Wednesday, Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean and Kevin Richardson were at Fiserv Forum for their first Milwaukee show in 14 years. 

Fans naturally didn't want it that way — but judging by the capacity crowd's ceaseless enthusiasm, the Boys were worth the wait. 

Backstreet Boys bring the hits and the moves to Milwaukee's Fiserv Forum

"You didn't come here for any boy band," Carter said Wednesday. "You came here for the boy band."

The Jonas Brothers fans who will pack the place this Tuesday might beg to differ. But the Boys worked hard to try to earn that bold proclamation with a two-hour show that touched on 31 songs across their discography. 

Unlike the Jonases or One Direction that followed, synchronized dancing was a signature for Boys starting in the mid-'90s. On Wednesday, they showed they've still got the moves — especially for the high-energy opening run through of "I Wanna Be With You," "The Call" and "Don't Want You Back"  — delivering practically double the amount of dancing that their boy-band elders, New Kids on the Block, did for “The Mixtape Tour” Milwaukee stop in June. 

The body slides, spins and Motown-indebted arm gestures and mic-stand dips showed up for several ballads, too, from "As Long As You Love Me" to "All I Have to Give," along with the Boys' signature smolder and puppy-dog eyes as they dramatically honored their soulmates and pined for unrequited love. Naturally, it was over-the-top, but fans were enthralled, taken back to their simpler times when they were younger and such matters of the heart meant everything in the world. 

The Boys acted like teens themselves, with a lot of brotherly camaraderie during and between the songs, and plenty of light moments to contrast the dramatics. At one point, when the guys were getting in position for a new song, Carter cheekily just sat on the stage in a meditative pose. And there was a funny bit in which McLean and Richardson changed onstage behind boxes — to cover their "Dad bods," as Richardson joked — and they wrung out the sweat from their clothes and tossed some into the pit (including an autographed pair of briefs), giving back to the women who tossed their bras and underwear on stage at shows over the years. 

The bit came at the end of a sincere show of gratitude from the two Boys for supporting the group for 26 years, a recurring comment from each of the members, who each took a turn thanking their fans alone onstage for a few minutes. There were other gestures of appreciation, from Littrell a few times lying flat on his stomach during dance routines on the catwalk, so he could reach across the security pit to give fans high fives, to McLean jumping in the pit himself.

Most of the show was performed closer to fans on an extended stage in the center of the arena, a standard production set-up for most big tours, but oftentimes artists only hang there for a few songs. 

And Boys brought new music to Milwaukee, from January's "DNA," their first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 since 2000's "Black & Blue." And several songs are actually among the strongest of their career. The band fit in seamlessly with the modern pop production of "Chances" Wednesday, co-written by Shawn Mendes and Ryan Tedder and co-produced by Tedder. The country-pop-leaning "No Place," an autobiographical tribute, Richardson suggested, to the "superwomen" in their lives, could easily have been a hit for former tourmates Florida Georgia Line. 

"Breathe" was performed a cappella, a nod to the band's early days auditioning in record exec offices. And "DNA's" lead single, the Grammy-nominated "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," is undoubtedly one of the catchiest songs the Boys have ever sung — yes, right up there with "I Want It That Way" — and the sharply choreographed presentation received some of the loudest screams of the night.

Combined during the encore with "Larger Than Life," — where the Boys each wore custom Milwaukee Bucks jerseys — Wednesday's show ended on a euphoric note, to the point that hundreds of women leaving the arena started spontaneously singing "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" together at the top of their lungs, the volume rivaling the sound in the arena during the show itself.

Just try to beat that, JoBros.

The takeaways 

  • Wednesday’s show had a unintentionally funny Spinal Tap moment at the start when the video panels didn’t line up correctly, resulting in some disjointed Backstreet Boys.
  • It’s been awhile since Backstreet Boys were in Milwaukee, but Richardson evidently is in the area often, revealing that he frequently vacations in Lake Geneva with his family. "You have a beautiful, wonderful homeland here, and I love to come experience all the time," Richardson said.  And McClean gave a shout-out to his "Random Lake crew" from the small village in Sheboygan County. He didn't elaborate on the connection, but he waved to a pocket of fans in the crowd. 
  • Baylee Littrell, son of Backstreet Boys’ own Brian Littrell, opened Wednesday’s show with a 25-minute country-pop set. Playing an arena is intimidating for most newcomers — especially a 16-year-old like Baylee with little live experience — and he understandably seemed timid Wednesday. But his pop-star pop and the rest of the Backstreet crew set him up nicely, with lyric videos and tour promos on the big screens during the set, and generically pleasant songs like “Boxes” and “Nobody Tells You” are solid enough to get him started. All he needs now is more confidence.

The set list 

1. "Everyone"

2. "I Wanna Be With You"

3. "The Call"

4. "Don't Want You Back"

5. "New Love"

6. "Get Down (You're The One For Me)"

7. "Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely"

8. "Incomplete"

9. "Undone"

10. "More Than That"

11. "The Way It Was"

12. "Chances"

13. "Shape Of My Heart"

14. "Drowning" 

15. "Passionate"

16. "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)"

17. "As Long As You Love Me"

18. "No Place"

19. "Breathe"

20. "Don't Wanna Lose You Now"

21. "I'll Never Break Your Heart"

22. "All I Have To Give"

23. "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)"

24. "We've Got It Goin' On"

25. "It's Gotta Be You"

26. "That's The Way I Like It"

27. "Get Another Boyfriend"

28. "The One"

29. "I Want It That Way"


30. "Don't Go Breaking My Heart"

31. "Larger Than Life"

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Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook at

Piet also talks concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee. Hear it at 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9), or wherever you get your podcasts.

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