(Words by Annie Zaleski; photos by Sarah Paradoski)
DONNIE, I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!
People came from all over the country for New Kids on the Block’s reunion show last night at the Scottrade Center. Mississippi. Texas. Chicago. Fort Myers, Florida. Detroit. Pre-show, a video screen expressed sentiments like this: “donnie i’m legal now”; “I (still) love Joey!!!!!”; “Joey I am in love with u!” Packs of ladies unearthed the fashion of their childhood (some of which are back in fashion again) for the occasion – crimped hair, side ponytails, puffy-paint T-shirts, neon colors, leggings with skirts. One lady was even spotted using a Caboodle as a purse.
The Boston boy-band obliged its adoring fans – and then some – with a two-hour-plus set of old faves and new jams. When the lights went down at around 9:15, the screaming began. Then a video with summer blockbuster-dramatic music started, and upped the suspense by announcing, “Tonight, the Block is back.” The music started. And then a platform rose up from the back of the stage, carrying Jordan, Jon, Donnie, Joey and Danny. No last names needed -- please.
DONNIE, I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!
The quintet launched into “Single,” a song from its new album The Block. And the crowd collectively lost its shit. And continued to do so until the final tune, a version of “Hangin’ Tough” that segued into Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” What happened in between was a well-polished, well-orchestrated, impressively choreographed concert that proved that an NKOTB reunion wasn’t ill-advised.
The group had a full band underneath a sleek two-story stage that resembled Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” video. But let’s be real: Critically examining NKOTB’s music really isn’t fair. The band’s old stuff is a product of its time, an innocuous melding of mid-‘80s soft-pop, toned-down New Jack Swing and glossy R&B/soul that was meant for teenage girls. Its new stuff is R&B/hip-hop-flavored pop (Ne-Yo, the Pussycat Dolls, Teddy Riley, Akon and even New Edition make appearances) that’s again of its time.
This time around, it’s meant to bring the band back into prominence at Top 40 radio and attract new fans -- while recapturing the hearts of their now-grown admirers. Both eras aren’t supposed to be considered high art. In 2008, fans are listening to the music with nostalgia in their ears.
The quintet obviously knows this. Songs two and three of the night were “My Favorite Girl” and “(You’ve Got It) The Right Stuff,” two songs from the blockbuster Hangin’ Tough. (The latter song featured fireworks and crotch grabs, just one of many moments that was a bit, for lack of a more precise term, “OMG!”; more on that later.) “Cover Girl,” featuring Donnie on lead vocals and (occasionally, sorta) guitar, was a rocked-out, at times vaguely nu-metal shadow of its teenpop self. The piano-driven “Tonight” – perhaps one of the cheesiest tunes in its catalog, and that’s saying something – spurred on one of the biggest crowd sing-alongs of the night.
NKOTB performed the latter song on a small rotating round stage near the back of the venue, just out of the reach of fans. (Although close enough for Danny to reach down, grab someone’s beer, drink from it, and then return it. Amazing. Bet that cup went home with the fan.) This three-song interlude was a concert highlight, thanks mainly to new songs “2 in the Morning” and “Dirty Dancing.” The former on disc is a retro-flavored slow jam; live, it was a booming pop tune. The latter featured a writhing dancer wearing skintight pink leggings on top and the awesome lyrics, “Ooh, she’s so crazy/ She’s like baby, I’m like Swayze” – and then an announcement that proceeds of a T-shirt sale were going to a breast cancer foundation.
The band’s choreography also impressed. Unlike other boy bands – who always seem to have one member they stick in the back because he’s a bit more uncoordinated -- each member of NKOTB has slick rhythm and dance skills. At the end of one song, Danny even breakdanced on the stage – like, we’re talking spinning like a top onstage on his back, doing a backward crab walk and basically contorting his body in ways that made a back injury seem very real. (Poor thing looked tired after the interlude, in fact.)
And sure, not everything worked. Occasionally, it felt like the band was overcompensating to prove how adult it was. Thugged-out bad boy Donnie dropped a “motherfucker” and amusingly asked the crowd “How’s my ass?” (Guess the reaction.) Before playing the addictive new hit “Summertime,” the boys posed for a picture; one held a tie in his hands somewhat suggestively, and someone made an off-hand comment about “bondage” that was…uncomfortable.
The set also felt overly long. The Bell Biv DeVoe-esque Step by Step tune “Games” felt dated, while the shortcomings of the rocked-out “Cover Girl” were obvious. The uber-modern, Aretha Franklin-and-Allen Toussaint-sampling new song “Grown Man” – featuring Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger beamed in via video – was also nothing to write home about.
But let’s again be real: A large part of NKOTB’s appeal stems from its looks. It didn’t matter what the band sang last night; people would have come to the show anyway, and they would have screamed because Donnie, Joey, Jordan (and to a lesser extent, Danny and Jon, aww) are mad hot.
DONNIE, I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!
This might unfortunately detract from the fact that Jordan and Joey – arguably the two hottest members of the band, I have to say, damn – have excellent voices. Joey’s performance of his adult contemporary hit “Stay the Same,” which featured a gospel choir at the end, and New Kids tune “Please Don’t Go Girl” (which saw him drop to his knees on the stage by its end) soared on the strength of his Broadway-caliber vocals.
Poor Jordan had to sing “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” – a song the boys sang just post-voice change, so imagine how high it is – but muddled through well with some impressive falsetto. A performance of his solo hit “Give It to You” felt like it had some backing tracks going on, but it was a fantastic display of dancing. And he had the honor of participating in the most ridiculous moment of the night: He stood in front of a wind machine at the top of the stage – and it blew his shirt open, revealing a (ripped, um, whew, it is hot in here?) chest. Cheesy? Yes. Amazing? Check and mate.
The peppy encore versions of “Step by Step” and “Hangin’ Tough” were just the icing on the cake. As the band sported Boston Celtics jerseys and images of Boston sports teams flashed on the screen, every arm in the arena waved back and forth to “Tough” like a giant sea anemone. A bit freaky and a bit awe-inspiring, it summed up the devotion of the crowd – and the unself-conscious way everyone there embraced their inner kid and just had fun.