New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys Toyota Center June 25, 2011
It's been 25 years since New Kids on the Block emerged on the pop scene, creating an entire generation of maniacally devoted fans overnight. Some girls fainted at the mere sight of the group; others creatively crafted puff-paint T-shirts in homage to their favorite member.
As Aftermath approached the Toyota Center Saturday night to see the reunited '80s boy-band sensation, it seemed not much had changed since 1986, at first glance: Girls excitedly entered the venue wearing faded, old-school or handmade NKOTB T-shirts; in this instance, however, most shirts read "NKOTBSB," as the New Kids' arguable '90s equivalent, the Backstreet Boys, co-headlined the show.
After a dramatically long teaser intro, NKOTBSB took the stage together, opening with a medley of NKOTB's "Single" and BSB's "The One," set against an orchestral sample of Coldplay's "Viva la Vida," oddly enough.
Unless you've seen the New Kids before - or Justin Bieber, or, hell, the Beatles - you cannot begin to fathom the magnitude, and volume, of 18,000 relentlessly shrieking girls. The music wasn't particularly loud, but Aftermath found ourselves desperately searching for earplugs to soothe our ears from the screams.
Clad in black denim and bedazzled leather jackets, NKOTB performed the first solo slot with "Summertime," from 2008's The Block. Next, BSB took the stage with "The Call." The trade-off continued all night, which worked surprisingly effectively; the shuffle was like the antidote for A.D.D-ridden show-goers.
Within seconds of the opening beats of "You Got It (The Right Stuff)," the stadium roared with wistful glee. Sweetening the experience was the group's inclusion of the exact choreography from the song's 1988 video. Every NKOTB fan in the house melted at the familiar sight.
While the NKOTBSB union makes sense on paper, Aftermath struggled with the pairing; NKOTB and BSB were from different eras. We were in high school when BSB debuted, and remember thinking we wouldn't be caught dead listening to their music; we also never considered it particularly good. Moreover, they emerged in the same era of so many comparable acts like N'Sync and 98°; when NKOTB debuted, there were no other pop acts like them.
But Aftermath seemed to be in the minority Saturday, as fans were clearly supportive of both acts. Girls raised handmade posters with "I LOVE NKOTB" on one side, and "I LOVE BSB" on the other; they flipped the signs accordingly.
Both groups performed with perfected choreography and enduringly high energy; they're also master flirters. Aftermath thinks every girl in Toyota Center left the venue believing she was the receiver of a blown kiss at some point during the night.
While there were sprinklings of lesser-known, new material in the bunch, we were treated to every single nostalgic hit, too. But most highlights came thanks to the New Kids' between-song banter.
"I smell good barbecue and see beautiful women," spoke bad-boy Donnie Wahlberg, who was shirtless about half the show. "We must be in Houston," he confirmed, to a screaming, approving crowd. "Nobody believed this could happen," he continued, nodding to his band-mates, before pointing outward to the audience. "It's because of you that it did."
Next, the "sweet" New Kid, Joey McIntyre took the mike: "I get the feeling there are two generations here tonight," spoke the heartthrob, who still sports a spitting babyface image, though it's now decorated with endearing laugh-lines. "It feels like 1989 all over again - and for some of us, like 1999 all over again. And I think we all still look damn good!"
The show drew to a close with golden throwbacks and elevated energy; Wahlberg climbed into the crowd during "Tonight," dancing and shaking fans' hands." BSB delivered their best-known singles, including "I Want It That Way," and "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," before NKOTBSB regrouped for their newly released collaboration, "Don't Turn Out the Lights."
Sporting bedazzled Boston Celtics jerseys, NKOTB closed the night with the song that put them on the pop-music map, "Hangin' Tough." Fans' hands waved in unison as we sang every word.
BSB rejoined them - sporting Orlando Magic jerseys, nonetheless - as the groups' respective singles were mashed-up into one catchy tune. Confetti suddenly sprinkled over the crowd, as the groups waved their final farewells, blowing us kisses goodbye.
While it seemed a bit too soon for fans to be nostalgic for BSB - and Aftermath found ourselves doubtful (or at least hopeful) that NKOTB didn't necessarily need BSB to launch a successful tour, the pair meshed well. We admit we cringed each time BSB took the stage, but each NKOTB song made up for it.
Ultimately, the show was entertaining as all hell . There were no breaks, no lulls, and every hit was played. Everything was over-the-top, from the catwalk to the pyrotechnics; I left with streamers in my hair and confetti on my dress, but every fun detail of the show richened it. Over two decades after the New Kids changed the face of pop music as fresh-faced teens, they've proven themselves every bit as entertaining today, as returning pop veterans.
In other words, they've (still) got the right stuff.
Personal Bias: Sorry, BSB fans, but there's just no comparison: Seeing NKOTB was AWESOME.
The Crowd:: Duh.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Donnie, take off your pants!!"
Random Notebook Dump: See above.
Single/The One (NKOTBSB) Summertime (NKOTB) The Call (BSB) Dirty Dancing (NKOTB) Get Down (BSB) You Got It (The Right Stuff) (NKOTB) Larger Than Life (BSB) Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time) (NKOTB) If You Go Away (NKOTB) Show Me The Meaning of Being Lonely (BSB) 10,000 Promises (BSB) I'll Never Break Your Heart (BSB) Drowning (BSB) Incomplete (BSB) Cover Girl (NKOTB) Favorite Girl (NKOTB) Tonight (NKOTB) Shape of My Heart (BSB) As Long As You Love Me (BSB) All I Have to Give (BSB) If You Stay (BSB) Quit Playing Games (With My Heart) (BSB) I'll Be Loving You Forever (NKOTB) I Want It That Way (BSB) Don't Turn Out the Lights (NKOTBSB)
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Everybody (Backstreet's Back) (BSB) Hangin' Tough (NKOTB)