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Concert review: Backstreet Boys' Salt Lake show proves they'll never quit playing games with our hearts

SALT LAKE CITY — Get out your hats: The Backstreet Boys are back. The pop phenoms are now older and perhaps wiser than in their sweet-cheeked days of yore, but if Wednesday night's "DNA World Tour" concert at Vivint Arena proved anything, it's that these five performers can still get us rocking our bodies.

It's been 26 years since Brian Littrell, AJ McLean, Howie Dorough, Nick Carter and Kevin Richardson met and formed the Backstreet Boys in Orlando, Florida, although fame didn't find the group for a few years. They are the kind of band who, even if you don't know the Backstreet Boys, their singles in the late '90s and early 2000s were so ubiquitous that you still know a few of their hits. What that means for fans today is that for the past 26 years, these singers and dancers have honed an impressively tight, professional group.

The Backstreet Boys perform at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Aug. 7, 2019.
The Backstreet Boys perform at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Aug. 7, 2019.
Melissa Majchrzak

Vivint's sold-out crowd certainly gave back what BSB put out. The screaming rarely dipped and often threatened to put out eardrums when the guys sang their biggest numbers. Like the Vivint audience for New Kids on the Block's show back in June, BSB filled the arena with mostly women, although the age group was more diverse for this show, with, yes, kids brought by their 40-year-old moms, but also with plenty of 20-, 30- and 50-somethings, too.

Unlike NKOTB, however, the BSB seem truly comfortable and happy to own their age and life stage. Opening the show with a video of the five members giving advice to their opening act, 16-year-old country singer Baylee Littrell — yes, son of Brian Littrell (remember: BSB aren't just dads; they're pop singer dads, which means when their kids start a band, they can, ahem, help them out) — the BSB seemed eager to establish that while they can still do the synchronized dance moves and sing in perfect pop harmony, they are family men these days, dedicated husbands who are dads by day and pop stars by night.

About them as pop stars.

The BSB aren't just another boy band — they are actually the most successful boy band of all time with 130 million records sold — and they put on a show fitting of their status. Massive LED screen? Check. Cool neon stage decor? That too. An apron stage with a section that moves up and down? Got it. Pyrotechnics, confetti and a half-dozen costume changes? Of course.

Opening with a trio of early hits, "I Wanna Be With You," "The Call" and "Don't Want You Back," BSB slid easily to "Nobody Else," a track of their latest album, "DNA." In a savvy bit of show organization, the BSB performed their older and beloved hits in full but sang just a verse or so of their latest hits. It kept the night moving, gave the fans what they want while still allowing the BSB to sing new songs.

The Backstreet Boys perform at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Aug. 7, 2019.
The Backstreet Boys perform at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Aug. 7, 2019.
Melissa Majchrzak

Before we go on, we need a word about boyband fashion. Always dressed alike but not quite, Wednesday night's show featured the BSB as Stormtroopers going clubbing, off-duty military hotshots (including McLean in a sort of hip Civil War get-up), fabulous hunters (I mean, sparkly camo?) and, best of all, custom Utah Jazz jerseys. Watching them onstage made me hope that one day, Anna Wintour picks "boy band" as a Met Gala theme with an accompanying exhibition.

Who your favorite BSB is depends on many factors, and while there is some debate among fans who is the group's best singer, all of them can and do sing incredibly well. Dorough's voice soared on their new song "Chateau," a nice slow jam that I would have loved to slow dance to in junior high, while Littrell, surrounded by mist and wearing a dapper hat, gave a soulful performance on "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely." Througout the night, the group passed the solos back and forth, effortlessly blending as a group but seemingly happy to let each other have their moment.

They took a break about midway through the show to chat with the ever-screaming crowd, talking about how old they were when they met (very young) and buttering up the Salt Lake audience. "You do know that we love you, too?" Carter asked. "It feels so good to be right here in Salt Lake City. It feels so good I'm telling the guys we're moving here. We're moving to Salt Lake City!"

While no one was fooled that we'd soon have the BSB as neighbors, they did reveal that the group filmed one of their first music video at Snowbird, an international video for their 1997 single "Never Break Your Heart."

After reminiscing, the guys snapped back to the job at hand, moving through a set list that included some of music's truly great pop songs: "Shape of My Heart" (which included heart-shaped confetti falling from the ceiling), "Quit Playing Games," "As Long As You Love Me" and of course, "Everybody."

BSB ended the night with two encores, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" and "Larger Than Life," a fitting last song for a group that, 26 years after they started, are still the stuff pop dreams are made of.