NKOTB, 98 Degrees, Boyz ii Men
Better Than: Justin Bieber’s leopard print Audi.
“This one goes out to all the sexy married women here tonight! I know there’s a lot of you.” Without any hint of irony or disappointment, Nick Lachey delivered these words. Truer words have never been spoken–the majority of the married female population of New Jersey had packed itself into East Rutherford’s Izod Center to experience what is quite appropriately titled “The Package Tour.” Featuring Lachey’s 98 Degrees, Boyz II Men and main event New Kids on the Block, The Package Tour succeeds in one thing quite brilliantly–they take no shame in their audience or purpose, and let you have just as much fun as you need to have at a tour featuring three groups of aging boy banders. And “as much fun as you need,” to the “sexy married women” at Izod, turned out to be a ton.
It must not be easy being former pop star in this era. With every passing generation and shift in mainstream focus, something massive changes the game. That’s how we’ve evolved from the very vanilla NKOTB in the ’80s, to the more sultry Boyz II Men in the ’90s, found our way to the charming 98 Degrees and ended up with the current selection of One Direction and One Direction derivative boy bands of now that are just kind of boyish fun with a mix of all of the above. NKOTB has seen it all, broken up, reunited, and have made a few minor comebacks. In 2008, which came at a very tasteful time past the prime of your *NSYNCs and Backstreet Boys, they embarked on a much more mature journey, and last night, it became obvious they’d hit their stride.
Before their two hour set (!) began, the dramatic sound of a steady heartbeat enveloped the arena, but was quickly swallowed by the majority female screams of the crowd. An intro video giving a 30-second bio of Boyz II Men prefaced a hit-packed opening set that was as deliciously cheesy as one would hope. Dressed in blindingly white tracksuits, the trio were a swollen bag of vocal runs, falsetto, and baritone you’ve ever needed from them. When we arrived to “I’ll Make Love to You,” the Greatest Single of the ’90’s (probably, I was 2 the year it came out), everyone in the crowd sang along and many a rose was handed out to the ladies surrounding the circular stage in the center of the floor. It was all vaguely reminiscent of a Sybaris commercial.
With almost no break in between the two, we were suddenly presented with the Lachey brothers and the rest of 98 Degrees. It can be difficult to remember that they once released music when Nick’s fame and reality show with ex-wife Jessica Simpson quickly eclipsed that entire portion of his career after it had already gotten the shortest end of the stick during the *NSYNC/BSB era. The boys were all smiles and charm. All of them, except for the once platinum-haired Justin Jeffre, took off their shirts to reveal their still-awful tattoos but still-wonderful biceps and matching white tanks. Many an overwhelmed audience member was pulled onstage and very awkwardly caressed by the boys during “My Everything.”
Finally, after an actual intermission, New Kids on the Block arrived brimming with a kind of rare confidence. They owned the room, and that old adage of a performer giving the energy they get was never more true. Their set was ridiculously joyful. While their 2008 comeback saw them attempt to immerse themselves in a music scene that changed dramatically since their debut in ’86 and connect with a new generation, 2013 has become for them a moment of clarity and balance.
What does happen to an aging boy band? It’s something we wonder during an adolescent obsession but ignore because we’re convinced our crushes will never age. Each of the New Kids have become Old Ass Men, but the thing is, you would never know. The balance they’ve found is a mix between silly self-awareness and a heaping helping o nostalgia factor, which they embrace as full on as the self-aware, nostalgia-seeking audience of women their age who’ve come to see them.
Their performance as a group completely embraced their presence as a quirky piece of pop history. You can tell they feel young, which made their concert feel fresh. No longer tabloid teens with rules to follow, NKOTB get to perform the same songs they released as teens but as adults who can to take off their shirts and have ridiculously long make out sessions with random audience members. Both of these things are exactly what Donnie Wahlberg did, in case you were wondering.
Jordan Knight can still hit that falsetto. Joey McIntyre is still the group’s baby, but now that he’s all grown up, he can bring his own baby on stage to sing the first line of “Tonight.” They pummeled through singles new and old and gave facelifts to the beats of classics like “Hangin’ Tough” and “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” to help pump up the energy because some pieces of that vintage wardrobe may need a bit of tailoring.
Like their openers, NKOTB did nothing but smile the entire time. Genuinely happy to still have an audience to make scream and shout for two hours straight is something any pop artist is lucky to have, especially 25 years into their career. New Kids did their perfectly in synch dance moves, 98 Degrees caught every hook, and Boyz provided all your a capella needs. It was all a little ridiculous, but still very sweet. It made sense that before the headliners began, a voiceover explained that everyone there deserved tonight because sometimes it’s okay to just have some fun.
Critical Bias: Joey McIntyre. Also, my presence at the concert made my mom ridiculously jealous, a plus.
Random Notebook Dump: I never thought I’d hear a fight occur at a NKOTB concert that would ultimately lead to all involved parties being ejected. But I did. It was weird.
Overheard: “The five guys that are here are going to get so lucky tonight.”