Lance Bass may not get to space as quickly as he’d like, but he shouldn’t worry; his band’s already in the stratosphere, and they didn’t even have to leave Portland to prove it. ‘NSYNC’s Celebrity tour kicked off Sunday at the city’s Rose Garden arena, and glitter-gelled eyelids twinkled in the night as thousands lined up for entrance, though new security measures (full bag check, metal detector wands and pocket-emptying for all) slowed things down considerably, and made not a few young girls cry, as they were forced to leave all posters, flowers and other small gifts for the boys in a large bin outside the doors.
Amped-up security may have been the cause of the show’s late start. R&B loverman Ginuwine eventually opened and was well-received, though his sexed-up slow-jams were probably a little over the young crowd’s head; further tour dates promise backup from the equally odd likes of Smash Mouth and P. Diddy.
Following a short video clip featuring Joey, Justin, Lance, JC and Chris in full Tony Robbins mode (“Follow your dreams!” “You can be anything you want to be, just believe!”), the boys finally appeared in the flesh, after a series of pyrotechnic explosions a little too powerful for these skittish times.
Seemingly outfitted for a dress rehearsal, all five looked like they’d just rolled off the bus (but grabbed a few shots of espresso on their way). Launching into “Do Your Thing,” the final track on Celebrity, the quintet quickly galvanized a crowd already nearly ballistic with anticipation. “Bye Bye Bye,” complete with the now-famous choreography, got the full treatment, as did “It’s Gonna Be Me.”
Justin was quickly established as the star of the show – at least as far as the Jumbotron cameramen were concerned – with JC running a close second. Joey, Lance and Chris have all the moves down, but appear to be going through the motions at times; this is the JC and Justin Show, and the others seemed resigned to their supporting-player status. Justin especially reveled in his role, and played the audience like a Stratocaster, goading them into sing-alongs and putting in some quality time alone up front at the lip of the stage.
Soon, all five disappeared down below, and quickly reappeared in coordinated black and white outfits and settled down on stools for “For the Girl Who Has Everything” and “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You.” The ballads done, they jumped out of their seats and bounded across the stage like boy-band Tiggers, launching into a super-energized version of “Tearin’ Up My Heart” before Joey introduced the live band. “Celebrity,” a hard-driving, funkadelic extravaganza, followed, and “Up Against the Wall” brought up the rear with silly, spastic dancefloor fun.
Once again the boys disappeared, and then they returned for an entire segment of covers. First, the Pre-fab Five took on the Fab Four, turning out the Beatles’ “She Loves You,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “Hey Jude” and “Twist and Shout” in quick succession while spread out across a semi-circular sky-bridge lowered from the ceiling and suspended over the audience. Harmonized versions of the Temptations’ “My Girl,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “I Can’t Get Next To You” followed. It was calculated, and it was kinda cheesy, but the boys were fully into it, and the crowd loved it – especially the parent chaperones, who made up a good quarter of the audience.
JC went on to say that as a band, they love “paying tribute,” and continued: “We’ve made a habit of singing other people’s music, like this one off our first album,” as a segue into Christopher Cross’ mammoth 1980 adult-contemporary hit “Sailing,” which the boys unexpectedly turned into a revved-up two-step number – a change that worked remarkably well, and a little better than an ambitious but almost unrecognizable New Orleans blues version of their own “I Want You Back.” In between, “This I Promise You” and “I Drive Myself Crazy” got a full work-out before the band said goodnight.
After the requisite fever-pitch screams for an encore, all five returned again for the ballad “Gone,” pulling out a more bombastic take than the spare, haunted version found on the album. New single “Girlfriend” followed, before they disappeared once more. Everyone knew what was coming, and the guys didn’t disappoint – “Pop” brought down the house, and sent females from four to 40 into a swoon with its hump-the-floor choreography. As the girls screamed and the boys sang, “The thing you got to realize/ What we’re doing is not a trend/ We got the gift of melody/ We gonna bring it till the end,” you almost couldn’t help but believe it.