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‘N Sync With the Younger Set

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Give ‘N Sync points for moxie.

Before the rulers of the teen-pop universe went on stage Friday at the Rose Bowl, the live album played over the sound system was by the . . . Rolling Stones--the band that set the standard for pop stadium spectacles before Justin, Lance, Chris, J.C. and Joey were even born.

And the English old-timers have kept it up, filling this very same facility in recent years--not just with elaborate staging, but with songs that have endured for decades. So far, the impact of ‘N Sync’s hits can be measured in months.

Sure, the Stones album was probably played to entertain the parents who had brought their young kids to see ‘N Sync and supporting acts Sisqo, Pink and Ron Irizarry. But is it a comparison these new kids really want to invite?

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Well, OK. On the spectacle front, the show had a nice opening, with the five singers lowered from the lighting rig in the guise of marionettes.

They then dramatically cut the cords--the underlying theme of “No Strings Attached,” the new album in which they declared independence from the Transcontinental Productions organization that created and launched the act. And the show featured a platform Friday that broke off the stage and took the group into the audience. But that was nothing next to the Stones’ magic bridge of its last stadium tour--and overall the staging lacked imagination.

One could only wonder what Sisqo could have done with the same production resources. A triple threat of terrific dance talent, an impressive singing voice and solid rap skills, the Dru Hill member and his dance crew were underserved by a short, basic set.

In their set, ‘N Sync’s declarations of puppy love (“No Strings Attached,” “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You"--surely, one of the the corniest songs ever written), novelty numbers (the sci-fi western goof “Space Cowboy”) and lightweight reductions of hip-hop styles (“Just Got Paid”) were all delivered immaculately, with every dance step, every word and every hair in place--and just as mechanical and scripted as before the group’s alleged independence.

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Rather than artistic statements, ‘N Sync’s emphasis was on proving it with sales numbers. Manager Johnny Wright came on stage before the set and thanked the fans for helping to make “history” in the 2.4-million sales opening week for the recent “No Strings Attached” album. And while he was at it, he touted this as the biggest crowd to ever see a concert at the Rose Bowl.

Again, this invites some comparisons, and Wright should have checked his figures. At nearly 60,000, it was an impressive assembly, but fell about 20,000 short of the Stones’ 1994 tour stop--and the Stones did it for two nights. It’s also been bettered by Pink Floyd and a Guns ‘N Roses/Metallica pairing--each also for two nights.

In any case, it reinforced a general impression that this is more about marketing than music. The hit may be “Bye, Bye, Bye,” but the message is “Buy, Buy Buy.”

Does this all mean the fans who screamed and sang along to every song should be embarrassed? Don’t worry. They will be--some day. Just ask the people who as kids saw New Kids on the Block at Dodger Stadium 10 years ago.

But let’s not worry about 10 years from now, or even tomorrow. The only thing that countedFriday was whether fans were entertained. And they were.

‘N Sync didn’t let that be, though. A projection of a clownish face between songs told the audience, “Others will have their time. This is our time. The only difference is that we are here to stay.”

Mick and Keith would have a good laugh over that one.

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