NKOTBSB w/Jordin Sparks
Tuesday, June 13
Better than: Sitting at home bitching about “manufactured pop.”
It was 8:35 last night when the lights at the Izod Center went down, and it was approximately 8:35:01 when the screaming started. The loud, screechy, lusty yelling sustained itself throughout the opening credits for the show by NKOTBSB—the hybrid of New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys, two “boy bands” more contemporaneous than collective memory might remember—and up until the two bands, joined as one in a Voltron of parethetical title asides and indelible hooks and proclamations that the ladies in attendance were all beautiful, appeared above the stage, looking deadly serious, staring stonily outward.
And then… the opening to Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” kicked in.
A curious choice, for sure, but one that almost instantly made sense, given that the idea of whose song opened shows on the NKOTBSB tour would probably be the source of message-board arguments and parking-lot sniping for months. “Viva” actually served as a bed for a mashup between the New Kids’ recent Ne-Yo-penned track “Single” and Backstreet’s 2000 track “The One” that worked quite well. It wouldn’t be another two and a half-ish hours until things let up, and in between there were bedazzled Public Enemy shirts, synchronized dance moves, Naughty By Nature cameos and outpourings of gratitude. And lots of crotch grabbing (by the guys) and singing along to indelible hooks (by the crowd).
It is difficult, in 2011, to write about either of the bands headlining this tour without succumbing to nostalgia, and the crowd embraced that ideal, some of them even wearing the five-inch (CD-sized!) pins with the individual New Kids’ faces on them or dressing like they would have back in 1989/99. How to know how many of the pleasures afforded by the performances of Backstreet tracks like the sumptuous (if sorta nonsensical) “I Want It That Way” and the cell-phone-service minidrama “The Call,” or the New Kids’ faithful cover of the Delfonics’ “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind),” were completely of the moment, and how many were of nostalgia for a time when we were all younger and burdened with fewer problems?
One thing’s for sure: The voices put forth by the three New Kids who handled most of the night’s lead vocal duties (Danny Wood and Jon Knight mostly handled backup duties) had kept up with their aging. Donnie Wahlberg took lead vocals on an Andrew WK makeover of “Cover Girl” that was probably the night’s most surprising revamp (I half expected Andrew himself to come out and mosh a bit, but alas). Joey McIntyre turned the coda of “Please Don’t Go Girl” into a chance to bring the audience to church early in the show; Jordan Knight did the same with “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)”—which he performed largely in falsetto, just like in the old days—near the end. (Take that, lip-syncing allegations from the then-Milli Vanilli-bitten public.)
And another thing: The Backstreet Boys have a metric ton of hits; at one point after the show’s putative midpoint my friend leaned over to me and named two songs that hadn’t been performed yet. I added another. They responded to this by coming out and doing three other huge songs that we hadn’t even thought of, as well as the three we named. (A 30-song setlist, even with two bands involved, will do that to you.)
Throughout the show the nine guys on stage seemed genuinely thankful to every person in attendance, taking time out of their choregraphy to wink and nod at audience members, or even make fun of people for texting while they should have been watching the show. If the show was, as my friend noted, the most choreographed show he’d ever seen in his life (possibly even moreso than the shows by former NKOTB opener Lady Gaga I saw in the past year), it also had a looseness about it that implied a relaxed atmosphere with friends, or at least with people who the former heartthrobs felt comfortable acting goofy around. “We’re gonna keep doing this… I don’t know for how long,” Jordan said at one point. “But for right now, it’s perfect.” The crowd roared its approval; I’d be lying if I said I didn’t join in. It was shortly after this that I wrote in my notebook, “Everyone is just so happy!!!” That the happiness was probably borne of a blend between nostalgia and relief that the same pleasures felt years ago could still be experienced today should, if anything, make the whole night sweeter.
Critical bias: Loathed NKOTB at the time because my middle-school boy band of choice was Guns N’ Roses. Came around at approximately the same time I first saw the monster mashy video for “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” on MuchMusic.
Overheard: “That’s his tribute to the Macho Man.”—my companion/photographer in response to this A.J. McLean getup:
Overheard II: “I smell about 20,000 beautiful women here… which means it smells like New Jersey.” “Is he talking about the state that I’ve lived in all my life?”
Random notebook dump: The order in which the opening credits introduced the members: Jonathan Knight; Howie Dorough; Danny Wood; A.J. McLean; Joey McIntyre; Brian Littrell; Jordan Knight; Nick Carter; Donnie Wahlberg. Make of that what you will.
Random notebook dump II: Near the end of the night Naughty By Nature came out to perform their two biggest hits, although given that this development had its own merch it wasn’t too surprising. Nevertheless, Donnie Wahlberg was beaming like a proud dad who was also the most excited kid in the room throughout.
Random notebook dump III: The New Kids’ “Tonight” was supposed to be their “Beatlesesque” track (remember when every pop star wanted to prove their “serious” bona fides by releasing one of those?) but its chorus was gloriously Bee Gees, a similarity they played up by inserting a snippet of “Stayin’ Alive” directly beforehand.
Random notebook dump IV: I kind of want to take Jonathan Knight out for fancy cocktails and talk real estate. It just looks like he’d enjoy that. (No romantic overtones, obv, even though when pressed in eighth grade I would grudgingly admit that I liked him best. He had a nice smile.)
Viva La Vida / Single / The One (NKOTBSB)
The Call (BSB)
Dirty Dancing (NKOTB)
Bye Bye Love (BSB)
You Got It (The Right Stuff) (NKOTB)
Larger Than Life (BSB)
Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind) (NKOTB)
If You Go Away (NKOTB)
Please Don’t Go Girl (NKOTB)
Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely (BSB)
10,000 Promises (BSB)
I’ll Never Break Your Heart (BSB)
Step By Step (NKOTB)
Cover Girl (NKOTB)
Poison / My Favorite Girl / This Is How We Do It / Games / Click Click Click (NKOTB)
Shape Of My Heart (BSB)
As Long As You Love Me (BSB)
All I Have To Give (BSB)
If You Stay (BSB)
Raspberry Beret / Quit Playing Games (With My Heart) (BSB)
I’ll Be Loving You (Forever) (NKOTB)
I Want It That Way (BSB)
O.P.P. / Hip Hop Hooray (Naughty By Nature)
Don’t Turn Out The Lights (NKOTBSB)
Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) (BSB)
Hangin’ Tough / We Will Rock You (NKOTB)