So I'll admit it: I'm a Backstreet Boys fan.
Back in the nineties when boy bands were constantly topping the charts my friends and I would trek down to the then Skydome and took part in the whole Backstreet spectacle, the lights, the sets, the screaming, the yelling, oh the excitement.
So when I found out that Backstreet Boy Brian Littrell would be coming to town to promote his new solo album Welcome Home I must admit I was anxious to see how much of his boy band persona would seep its way into his solo career.
The first and most obvious Backstreet baggage that followed Littrell was his fans. Walking into the auditorium it was obvious that the women outnumbered the men. Although the crowd sat respectfully through the opening act, 17-year-old, local R&B artist Roshana, as soon as she finished her set the ladies rushed towards the stage in anticipation of the headliner. Though his fans were a large contingent of the crowd a few families dotted the auditorium and though they seemed to enjoy the show they didn't quite have the same zeal as the Backstreet fans.
As the lights dimmed and Littrell graced the stage, the baby-faced boy-bander was greeted with an all too familiar chorus of high-pitched squeals and whistles. Though the crowd was similar, albeit significantly more intimate than a Backstreet Boys crowd as Littrell grinned and waved at the audience, it quickly became apparent that this wasn't a chair flipping Backstreet show. Strapping on an acoustic guitar Littrell began his set with "My Answer is You" easily drawing the crowd into the Christian anthem.
For a man who began his career only having to fill one fifth of a stage Littrell held his own easily with his sweet voice and charismatic humour giving the crowd a more intimate look at the pop star. Though his pop sensibilities still shone through the stripped down songs gave him a chance to showcase the strength of his voice and a bit of his skill on the guitar, he joked later in the set, "who says a guy in a boy band can't play guitar?"
Most of his performance was filled with tunes from Welcome Home like "Wish" and a cover of Michael English's "In Christ Alone" and "Angles and Heroes" Littrell also slowed it down for a cover of country star Tim McGraw's "Don't Take the Girl".
His song "Gone Without Goodbye", the heart wrenching tune written about 9/11 had personal meaning for Littrell. He talked candidly to the crowd about how his wife, Leighanne was set to get on a plane on September 11, 2001 from Boston to California but told him "I just have this feeling in my gut that's telling me to stay with you." Twenty four hours before she was to set foot on the American Airlines flight his wife cancelled, narrowly missing a trip on the plane that crashed into the World Trade Centre.
Though he delved into serious subject matters like faith and loss Littrell never shied away from his pop star persona, even throwing a few Backstreet tunes into his set rattling off solo versions of "I Want It That Way" and "As Long As You Love Me" to the delight of the excited crowd.
Even his banter was scattered with anecdotes of his fans and the other boys joking that fans were always asking him about the other boys as if they all lived in the same house and joking that his fans often knew where he was going even before he did. He even seeped pieces of Backstreet Boy songs into his banter always singing the word "alright" just the way he did in "Backstreet's Back".
Moving easily from poking fun at his band mates and fans to advocating his faith his gentle Southern charm shone through in a way it never could under the bright lights and in the massive stadiums the Backstreet Boys played in the past. As he returned to the stage for his encore at the end of the night he thanked the crowd genuinely for coming out, "I hope that you see a real person up here," he said "instead of just a pop star."
Writer: Michelle Garcia