There will always be a very special place in my heart for boy bands. There. I said it. Though I spent so many of my years listening to nothing but hip-hop, the earliest days were cultivating a love of male crooners. At age five or six I picked up my first New Kids on the Block cassette tape (!) and trading cards, jewelry, and teen pin-up magazines soon followed. I wasn't allowed to have the dolls or even see them live in concert. Perhaps ironically the first boy band I'd ever see in concert was Backstreet Boys, years later, after those teen pin-up magazines had become such a staple that I got introduced to their faces well before I ever heard them open their mouths to hit a high note. Some may call me a fair-weathered boy band fan, since I have not followed these guys this whole time (as they pointed out on stage it has been 25 years of NKOTB and 18 for BSB and I...feel old), but when they announced they were joining forces to tour together, I knew I had to be there. And so I set out in December of 2010 to procure tickets to their Los Angeles stop which just happened to FINALLY be last night.
Look, when you hear these two groups are coming together, you can pretty much figure out the set list ahead of time. They each have their classics, their staples, and though they might spice things up with a new track or two (like NKOTB's "Click Click Click" or "Summertime"), really the only surprising thing will be the order in which they are performed. Hearing them sing all of those tunes back-to-back (NKOTB's "Valentine Girl," "If You Go Away," "My Favorite Girl" and BSB's "Incomplete," "Shape of My Heart," "Inconsolable," "As Long As You Love Me," "Quit Playing Games With My Heart") kiiind of made it obvious in a way you can't ignore that they're all singing about the same thing at all times, and the songs sound similar because of it. The songs blended seamlessly into each other, but I'm not sure it even mattered what these guys were crooning. The truth is, decades later they still have the voices; they still have the moves; they still have (if not more so now) the sex appeal! And the ladies (and one guy with a "Cover Boy" sign) went wild!
And it really turned into so much more than that for me anyway. For one thing, I was not expecting Joey McIntyre to be able to perform "Please Don't Go Girl," you know, since his voice dropped. But they adjusted the notes slightly for him, and he did it to perfection. I was also not expecting the guys to be so gracious with their fans. This was the Staples Center, a huge arena where major sports are played, and it is hardly an intimate venue. But all nine members did everything they could to make it feel much smaller. They interacted with the fans positioned directly around the stage, waving, singing directly to them, and shaking their hands. At one point a girl even handed Nick Carter her hat, he put it on as he sang a few bars and then tossed it back to her (he also later whipped off his Lakers jersey and tossed it into the audience). They utilized the crowd and fed off the energy. As Brian Littrell sang and walked through the crowd, he accepted hugs and hand slaps and got so caught up he never quite made it to the stage while the song was still ongoing. But the most surprising thing, hands down, was that for one night only, all ten members of NKOTBSB was brought together again.
Yes, that's right, Kevin Richardson reunited with the guys. If it was anything but a last minute addition, it was kept extremely well underwraps. Donnie Wahlberg Tweeted about it just minutes before he stepped on stage but most in the crowd were too caught up in the music, and in capturing the moment on their cameras, to check Twitter!
There was a part of me that expected the concert to be a bit more about the supergroup as a whole, though. While they did all perform together at times, most notably the closing "Hangin' Tough" that lead into a "We Will Rock You/Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" encore, more times than not one group would step aside to allow the other their shining moment. There were certainly fans in the audience only there to see one of them, and that decision was probably done out of respect to them and each other. But personally I would have killed to see them take on a song of each other's or at least mix up the pairings a bit and play with harmonies and arrangements. This was more like two acts on a bill who just happened to weave on and off the stage rather than let one play the set to fruition before the other started.
After all of these years, the guys seem to still be extremely good sports about the "boy band" label. There is a point in every show when BSB picks fans from the audience to bring on stage. Stools get brought out for them to dance around and serenade the lucky women. They hand them roses; they really ham it up. But this time A.J. McLean took it a step further with "I'll Never Break Your Heart" by bringing up some dude. The fact that there were as many dudes in the audience as they were was probably enough to throw him off and decide to have fun with it.
And "ham" may be the operative word because while it was expected they would bust out all of their old moves, they mugged for their fans above and beyond that. The stage, which let's face it, was in the shape of a penis (Jordan Knight said it himself), was showy in itself with flashing lights, fire spurts, dry ice smoke, and a round platform that rose at the end. No "that's what she said" jokes, please-- though one was made on stage during the evening. There was also lots of crotch-grabbing, which maybe was why I wasn't allowed to go to these shows when I was really young, but it was all in good fun. Wahlberg ripped off his wifebeater during his insanely energetic performance of "Cover Girl" and bounced around the stage shirtless for awhile, but other than that it was pretty kid friendly. Which is probably a good thing considering that A) these guys have their own kids now and B) kids are the usual boy band audience and many of the original fans now brought their little ones with them.
It's funny, but while I was in the arena, I kept thinking about what Little Me would think about the concert. Little Me had a bit more invested. But it was hard to think with all of the screaming (seriously, my ears are still ringing). And Little Me was a Knight (and Carter and Richardson) girl, but watching the performances last night I was definitely Team Wahlberg and Team Littrell. Not that you have to really pick one guy or anything. The great thing about boy bands is that though they set them up so there is something for everyone-- one of every "type" (which the guys acknowledged during an odd-timed but still very sweet group introduction)-- they all do what they can to make you feel like they are singing directly to you. Even if you get dragged along to one of their shows by a friend and claim to be not into it, chances are they will win you over with just a few notes.
But the bottom line is: Little Me feels somewhat vindicated and definitely completely special that she got to see TWO huge parts of her childhood come together to perform, even if not always together, at least on one stage, during one evening. It was like a really selective Wango Tango. NKOTBSB took the stage for almost three hours, and for those three hours it was like being a kid again. For me, but I'm sure also, in many ways, for them.
I have not purchased a song by a boy band since junior high school. And yet after last night's supergroup single "Don't Turn Out The Lights," I am scouring iTunes today. Go figure!