I was annoyed with Nick Carter.
It started a few weeks ago, with cancelled shows and sub par apologies. The result was a swift mute on my Twitter and several eye rolls that could have resulted in a muscle strain.
I had purchased tickets to Nick’s All American tour the day they went on sale. I’ve seen Nick solo a couple of times and – as most of us do – have and insatiable Backstreet Boys gap in my life that needed something. I was irritated but wouldn’t be so much so that I would fail to attend the show.
Like the other Backstreet Boys, I look at Nick as a little brother. He’s got that perfect mix of being a lovable loser, an inspiring free spirit, and unfailingly charismatic even at his worst. It doesn’t hurt that he’s such a nerd and a ham, either. Endearing and irritating, fun and frustrating, charming and chaotic… he’s the yin to his own yang at every turn. So despite my crustiness towards his new material and some of his more recent stumblings, I was looking forward to seeing him perform.
I attended the show with a friend that is not a fan and thought she’d be a good litmus test for him. It’s always easy to get good reviews from people that already love you and I was looking forward to her impressions. We both left impressed – who wouldn’t love a good night of Backstreet Boys music, solid vocals, a few throwbacks, and some surprises mixed in?
I started my Saturday night as I normally do with two glasses of tequila on the rocks and the evening only improved from there. Nick’s opening act appeared to have decent vocals but in typical fashion the crowd was having some trouble getting into her set. We came to see Nick Carter and the mention of his name garnered more applause than any of her songs. My heart always breaks for their openers but in this case, because she and her band actually were pretty good and engaged with the blasé crowd, I felt especially badly for them. The feeling faded as after each song I became more antsy for Nick to get started.
After grabbing another glass of tequila to prepare for his performance, it was finally the moment we had all been waiting for. The lights went down, the band came out, and there he was: Buddy Holly.
It was definitely Nick Carter.
He broke out with Blow Your Mind, a personal guilty pleasure of mine and initially I was a bit worried about his vocals. He was projecting very well and was clearly amp’ed up about getting on stage, so he let his band handle a lot of the chorus. The crowd didn’t mind and it was a great way to kick off the show. He followed up with I’m Taking Off and about half way through my friend and I looked at each other and she leaned in to yell, “Add this to things I never knew I wanted until I saw them: Nick Carter singing ELTON JOHN!”
Nick was definitely having fun adding some unexpected turns to his tracks and tossing a bit of Rocket Man into I’m Taking Off went over brilliantly though I’m not certain how many fans had a chance to catch up before the song shifted back to his original track. Without skipping a beat we were listening to Nick croon Horoscope which was the first of seven All American tracks he’d tackle that evening.
Not done with his throwback infusions, his next song was All American with a sprinkling of the 80’s classic Jesse’s Girl. Unexpected but perfectly suited for the song, it made me hope that one day Nick will just do a tour where he only sings 80’s covers. Don’t tell me you can’t imagine him singing Don’t You (Forget About Me). Don’t. I won’t listen.
The first Backstreet Boys song was referred to as a throwback by Nick and I laughed as he segued into a wonderful arrangement of As Long As You Love Me. The music wasn’t decidedly different but it was just varied enough that I found myself mad at the Boys again for the lack of variation they’ve implemented into their live shows over the last two decades. Well done, Mr. Carter.
Inexplicably, Nick performed the Nick & Knight lead single, One More Time. I understand people enjoyed his duet album with Jordan, but there were certainly better songs from the duo’s debut that would have been more entertaining. He also left off a number of better solo songs from his own catalog, which makes the decision to include such a throwaway track all the more head shake worthy.
He earned his way back into my good graces by following it up with the Backstreet Boy’s song, Just Want You To Know. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the song until I saw it live again. The energy on the floor really swelled as Nick and fans alike belted out the chorus.
Nick exited the stage briefly and it was clear we had reached the ‘let’s sit down on a stool and tinker with the guitars a bit’ portion of the show. Nick had briefly referenced something special but decided to just dive into the next song and those chords started to play. You know the chords I’m talking about: the chords that define 1999 and that era of pop music more than anything else. As the opening verse to I Want It That Way started I took a moment to appreciate how wonderful the song is when stripped back to it’s bare bones. Then in the background of the stage I saw it… a familiar hat… a knowing smile… the crowd lost it. Brian Littrell was standing along side Nick and joining him for the Backstreet Boys’ classic.
Brian sounded strained enough that my friend who hasn’t followed them so well had noticed. His speaking voice was also rough but ask me if anyone in the audience was less thrilled to see him on stage? He stuck with Nick to perform a second Backstreet hit, Show Me The Meaning, and hugged his Backstreet Brother before heading back to the Disaster Musical to meet up with Baylee. My friend later told me that she was glad to see them hug – her last memory of the Boys was from the documentary that I forced her to watch and the conference room argument had stuck with her. It was a really cute moment and definitely fed my Backstreet appetite.
Nick moved into a shortened version of Madeline, which I’m glad is still being included in BSB-related performances even if it wasn’t a single off of In A World Like This in most countries. He followed up with I Will Wait and gave a shout out to Dancing With The Stars in the process. Help Me was queued up next and I remembered why he lost the debut solo single battle with Justin Timberlake. It’s not a bad song but it was lost among decidedly stronger material.
Unbeknownst to me, we were only half way through the show at this point. I could be wrong but from the earliest shows on this tour, it appears Nick has expanded the set list and the fans responded in kind sticking with him through every song.
The next set was comprised of Second Wind (probably my favorite track from his new album), a cover of Wonderwall, a jacked up version of Burning Up, and Swet. It definitely lifted the mood up from the acoustic portion of the show and set us all up for a stellar ending.
Larger Than Life and The Call were immediately recognizable by the audience and Nick appeared to be having fun riffing on some of the choreography the group would typically work. He even shook his booty (although this might be Nick’s default setting, now that I think about it) and flashed a few Dancing With The Stars moves. He was having a ton of fun up there and it was contagious.
The highlight of the show for me was Falling Down. The arrangement was wonderful and a bit haunting. The inclusion of a bit of In The Air Tonight was seamless and an extra twist I didn’t expect at all. His vocals really came through on this one and it’s the song that stuck with me the most after the night had ended.
Things picked back up again with three songs from All American, Tijuana, 19 in 99, and Get Over Me. While the energy didn’t miss a beat, it was obvious the audience wasn’t as familiar with the newer material. It didn’t stop the crowd from jumping and dancing along, however, and led to the encore and last song of the night: Everybody.
After taking it all in, a few things definitely struck me. When Nick sang a lot of the Backstreet tracks he did so in his lower register which I find much more appealing. In my opinion when he sings that way, his voice sounds less nasally and more robust. I realized about half way through the show that most of his new material doesn’t highlight that range and instead focuses more exclusively on his higher pitches. This could be why I haven’t been a huge fan of All American as an album in general. That being said, his show was everything I had expected: great energy, a wonderful display of showmanship, and solid vocal delivery. This is the first time I’ve seen him incorporate so many Backstreet Boys songs into his set list and I think he mixed them in perfectly. Though I do think the set list could use a bit of refining in other areas, he struck a balance between the old and new and didn’t let fans get too comfortable with one or the other. My friend and I left feeling that the 12 year old versions of ourselves were fully satisfied and the nearly 30 year old versions were glad to know Nick Carter shows no signs of stopping.
If you haven’t bought tickets for one of Nick’s shows on his All American Tour, there’s still time! You can go to nickcarter.net/events and purchase them. There’s still seven days of shows for you to enjoy the ultimate Nick Carter solo experience!