New Kids on the Block, 98 Degrees, Boyz II Men Toyota Center June 27th, 2013
So I can now cross "touch a boy band member" off of my bucket list, thanks to last night's ridiculously girly boy band mash-up known as The Package Tour -- a triple threat concert consisting of '90s the boy bands Boyz II Men, 98 Degrees, and New Kids on the Block -- at the Toyota Center. My life is indeed now more complete.
I wasn't fortunate enough to take part in any boy band concerts during their heyday back in the '80s or '90s -- the Rio Grande Valley isn't exactly the pinnacle of live music venues -- but if I had to imagine what those concerts looked like back in the day, I'd say last night's throwback concert did those days justice.
The attendees were as one would expect at a concert featuring the some of the biggest names in boy band history -- there was enough teased hair, spandex, and neon colors to last a lifetime -- and the number of homemade NKOTB shirts on adult women was astounding. It was as though the '90s stood still in attire, but we all still aged a good number of years. I suppose one never outgrows those Tiger Beat days, really.
I wasn't just surprised at the cheesy attire we all threw on to celebrate the resurrection of boy band glory; I was also friggin' shocked when the concert -- slated to start at 7:30 p.m. -- started at, well, 7:30 p.m. I wasn't even aware that happened anymore, and apparently neither was anyone else in the venue, because the seats were half empty when Boyz II Men took the stage in a dramatic gesture of video introduction, flashing lights, and, of course, an acapella round from those Boyz.
The Boyz, for their part of this Package Tour business, started off with their old hit, "Bended Knee," during which I saw at least three ladies crying. No. Lie. Three of them. It was apparent that they still have those chops after all these years, and the women still love 'em. Maybe good ol' Putin and his sexed out concert plan knew something I didn't. Go figure.
It's hard for me to believe that after so many years together, these guys still sound freakin' fantastic, but they do. Their set list was super short -- six songs -- and it's a shame, because in reality, they were the most talented singers of the pack, by far.
They launched into five more of their biggest hits with the expected fanfare -- there was plenty of ballad-crooning, fan greeting, and dancing to appease the masses -- but it was during "I'll Make Love to You" that I realized how much I'd been missing during the '90s by avoiding these concerts like the plague. As they belted out that love ballad and the ladies swooned, rose petals fell from the ceiling and the Boyz threw long stemmed roses, and it was hilariously entertaining. Total cheese, but awesome nonetheless.
98 Degrees was up next, ready to contribute their part of the package (tour). The choice for this lineup confused me from the day it was announced; I can understand wanting to resurrect the NKOTB nostalgia thing (I think), and I really do like Boyz II Men well enough, but the amalgam of the three was slightly confusing.
98 Degrees wasn't ever as huge as NKOTB, and Boyz II Men is in a completely different genre, being far more r&b than anything, although they are technically a boy band, I suppose. To be fair, though, I admittedly never jumped on the 98 Degrees bandwagon; they came on the scene well after my boy band infatuation days were over.
Fortunately for them, it seems I may have been the only one in the crowd who escaped their grasp back in the day, because the rest of the women in attendance -- and yes, it was all freakin' women filling the Toyota center -- were fangirling it up for the Lachey brothers and company once they took the stage.
The tears of fangirldom were much less during the 98 Degrees set, despite them touching on all of those sappy ballads they released. They busted out the big guns, too, opening with "Invisible Man" and running through heavy hitters like "The Hardest Thing" and "I Do (Cherish You)" with relative ease.
These guys were never the strongest singers to take the stage, even back at the height of their popularity, but they definitely held their own, and they still can. The vocal chops were pretty decent, honestly. I'd expected way more of a choppy performance vocally, but they surprised me.
Where things got slightly muddled, however, was when they tried to keep the whole boy band appearance going. It's been so many years, and I suppose that their fans -- probably rightfully -- expect to see choreography and ass shaking and hip swiveling, but it's so damn weird to see a bunch of guys in their mid-forties dancing around to "Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)." All I could think of was how embarrassing it must be to see your dad up on stage, dancing around like a '90s boy band member, and it totally threw me off.
There's gonna come a day when the fool in 98 Degrees rips off his tank top, which he's stripped down to from his regular shirt to get "more comfortable," and there's going to be an audible groan from his daughter in the crowd. Perhaps it's time to focus just on the vocals, and leave the sexpot moves to the new generation, no? I'd dare to say that it's okay if boy bands evolve just a bit as the years go, as long as they're still giving the superfans the music they want.
Next up, New Kids on the Block. It's been many, many years since I've busted out anything New Kids related -- hell, I remember listening to their Christmas tape on repeat, a freakin' tape, guys -- but I do think I understand the infatuation of some of the ladies at the concert. They were the biggest thing ever on the playground of my elementary school, too. We all had their shirts, their dolls, their freakin' sleeping bags. We were all going to marry Jordan Knight one day; we just weren't sure how that was going to happen.
What happened when they took the stage, though, was totally not what I'd expected. Joey, Jordan, Donnie, Jonathan, and Danny (I just wanted to see if I could remember all of their names, and I couldn't) launched into a set list of songs that I'd never flippin' heard.
I suppose I was somewhat naive to think that they'd start off with "Step by Step" or something, but whatever -- it's an NKOTB concert -- nostalgia is supposed to play into it, I think. I was shocked to be watching these very grown men sing songs I had no recollection of.
It took a while for them to launch into a recognizable song; "Right Stuff" finally surfaced four or five songs in, and although I wasn't totally impressed with their vocal abilities, I was happily mesmerized by the fact that they did, in fact, still do the dance moves. Yes, I know, it's slightly hypocritical to tell 98 Degrees not to do their choreography and then praise NKOTB for their moves, but some good had to come from their set, and those dance moves were it.
The New Kids, for their part, had plenty of shiny things to look at, presumably to distract from the gaping set list -- there were streamers shooting out above the crowd, enormous balloons dropping, glitter and pyrotechnics galore -- but it just didn't help to gloss over the fact that this nostalgia act -- an '80s boy band with some really recognizable songs -- chose to play some of their newer, way less nostalgic numbers.
It was almost as if the New Kids weren't in on the fact that they're a throwback act, honestly. Everyone in the crowd was aware of what this concert was, with their teased hair and spandex, but the New Kids were still holding out hope for relevance that exceeded a boy band act of old. It made for a really strange vibe.
The NKOTB set went on for a whopping two hours, so kudos to them for having the wherewithal after all these years to be able to handle multiple costume changes, set changes, and stage antics for two straight hours. That's a long ass time for any musician, but when you're in your late forties, rippin' off your shirt onstage for a bunch of soccer moms in neon, it's got to be a monumental task to overcome.
They closed out the night with "Hangin' Tough," which they led into by way of the Dropkick Murphys "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," presumably in a nod to their hometown. I was stoked to hear them use a Dropkick song; it certainly eased a bit of the cheese, given that one of them was still shirtless after a frantic tearing off of the undershirt.
That song, during which they threw on baseball jerseys and danced like hell with the orignal "Hangin' Tough" moves, was exactly what we'd come to see for the night. The New Kids, reppin' the '80s and '90s, doin' their thing like they did way back when. It was the first, and unfortunately last, time during their set that the moment felt genuine.
That closed it all up; no encore, no fanfare -- a direct juxtaposition to what the night had been, really, with its overabundance of everything -- and we all shuffled out, full of love ballads, cheesy gestures, and Aqua Net.
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Personal Bias: I am by no means a boy band fangirl, no matter what generation they're from, so I'm probably a pretty harsh critic of stuff like this.
The Crowd: All of those elementary NKOTB fans, who have now graduated to soccer mom status, while still holding a little place in their hearts for the first boy band they ever crushed on.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Aaaaaaaaaaand, ball grab."
Random Notebook Dump: Really, with the rose petal shower raining down on me? Are we in a bad porn?