By DAN AQUILANTE
easy to beat up on *NSYNC as a musically vapid fabrication designed to separate
girls from their parents' money. But
at sold-out Madison Square Garden last night for the first of a four-night
engagement, the boys from Florida were un-SYNC-able.
The quintet, featuring Joey Fatone, JC Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick, Lance
Bass and Justin Timberlake, offered a high-energy, fast-paced hour-and-a-half
concert that was visually exciting and musically pleasing - even to adult ears.
What wasn't so pleasing was the squeaks, squeals and shrill shrieks that
sounded from the mouths of babes. But
those babes are largely responsible for the gigantic success of *NSNYC, which
has sold 10 million copies of its self-titled debut and another 8 million copies
of its sophomore disc, "No Strings Attached." ("No Strings,"
by the way, holds the record as the fastest-selling album in music history, with
fans snagging 2.4 million copies in its first week of release last spring.) As
you'd expect, the concert leaned totally on these two albums.
The boys knew they'd just have one chance to make a first impression with
the impressionable pre and young teens, so they opened the concert with a
no-holds-barred version of the title track from "No Strings Attached."
Production values (as well as family values) were cranked to 11 right from the
start, with the boys in the band making a grand entrance by descending from the
rafters like life-size marionettes to a snippet of a recording from the song
"I Got No Strings," from the "Pinocchio" movie.
By the time their feet hit the hardwood and the five unleashed themselves
from their dangle-tangle, they all were crooning "No Strings
Attached." Smoke pots bellowed angry plumes, ribbons of crimson fireworks
erupted indoors overhead, and the booms shook up the slack-jawed audience. This
opening production number, featuring P.T. Barnum showmanship and razzle-dazzle,
left little doubt that *NSYNC considers this sold-out engagement at the Garden
one of - if not the most - important performances of their career. Tomorrow's
gig will be shown live on cable's HBO. The
guys of *NSYNC aren't the greatest stylists. They have two basic gears: light
ballads and passionate dance/pop. The fast stuff was by far the most
entertaining, but judging by the hormonally charged screams, the ballads made
the band's female admirers melt. To
their credit, none of the guys has had breast-enlargement surgery and they don't
lip-synch. In fact, the only lip service came from the audience members, who
mouthed almost every word to every song. Because the guys sing and dance as a
unit, most of the time there doesn't seem to be a leader. At last night's
opener, however, if you had to pick out who was running the show, the role
alternated between Timberlake and Chasez. Unlike
last year's tour, which was burdened with too much pork for one fork, this show
replaced the fat, corn-fed sapsucker with the best tunes from the new (very
strong) "No Strings Attached." Songs such as "Bye Bye,"
"Space Cowboy" and "Just Got Paid" were the heart of the
performance. How was the singing?
Pitch perfect, although the sound was muddy and cranked too loud. The Dancing?
What *NSYNC lacks in finesse, they more than cover with athleticism and raw
energy. The music that supported the voices came from a small rock ensemble
nested in the back of the stage. That band was as well-oiled as the boys, and
the backup group was obviously listening and reacting to the music as *NSYNC
sang. There were skits like the
videotaped "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire" routine, which was focused
on Lance Bass, but comedy, and weak comedy at that, is not what anybody was
there to see. These asides were a yawn to everyone except the devoted. The band
was best served when it let its harmonies do the talking, as on the
straight-ahead power pop song "I Thought She Knew," which best
demonstrated that the guys are artists.