July 15, 2011
Target Center, Minneapolis
It would be impossible to reflect on what happened Friday night while skating the line between objectivity and heart-swelling fandom, so I'm not going to do it. Because from the moment that New Kids on the Block launched into their first immediately recognizable mega-hit of the night, "You Got It (The Right Stuff)," I was no longer a journalist, pen and notepad in one hand and Twitter feed in the other. I was no longer at the Target Center, sweltering in a sea of shrieking fans. Nope. As soon as that song started up, I was 8 years old and back home in the small town where I grew up, playing my New Kids tape on repeat and dancing around the living room with a limb-swinging freedom that I haven't felt since.
Cue the heart-swelling.
There's been plenty written about the loss of innocence and the grappling with puberty and relationships that comes with shedding your 8-year-old self and preparing for the complexities of adulthood. But part of that loss includes being able to listen to something just because you like it, without worrying about where that musician lands on the ever-sliding Spectrum of Cool or what it says about you as a person that it drives you wild. So it was with great relief that I looked around the arena at 13,000 other twenty- to thirtysomethings and realized that we had all simultaneously decided that it was okay to have some honest-to-god little kid fun and sing along to songs that we might, in daylight and in the presence of non-believers, write off as "guilty pleasures." For the two and a half hours that New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys performed, both separately and together as one nine-piece pop Voltron, there was ecstatic glee shaking the room and threatening to overpower the popping fireworks and harmonized vocals happening down on stage.
It was that stadium-sized joy that made two and half hours feel like one, smoothed over the few rough patches -- namely, the few times Donnie Wahlberg went for an ill-advised high note or when the groups took a long break from singing to bloviate about their budding bromance and make (totally unnecessary) introductions -- and further amplified the night's many high points.
With nostalgia as the night's main selling point, and though the two groups had plenty of familiar material to cull from, both Backstreet Boys and New Kids managed to throw a few of their songs into the blender and debut remixed versions, namely the intro mash-up of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" with NKOTB's recent "Single" and BSB's "The One," and an amazingly over-the-top finale performance of "Hangin' Tough" that featured NKOTB bounding down the runway in green Celtics jerseys and unraveled into a bro-off/dance-off between them and BSB set to Queen's "We Will Rock You." The groups did their part to pay homage to Prince as well, with New Kids strutting down the runway to snippets of "Kiss" and BSB working "Raspberry Beret" into their song "If You Stay." All of the sampling and remixing gave the night a chopped/screwed/kitchen-sink vibe that seemed very 2011, even if some of it sounded like Jock Jams on adderall.
As far as the performances themselves were concerned: New Kids aren't half the dancers that Backstreet Boys are, but what they lacked in more complicated choreography they more than made up for in strong, soulful singing, with Joey McIntyre stepping forward as the new forerunner of the group and commanding the stage, while Jordan Knight, the band's longtime lead singer, stepped into more of a co-leadership role and graciously shared the spotlight. Both groups looked more than comfortable on stage, running through their sets with what looked like effortless precision (Minneapolis was their 37th stop on the NKOTBSB tour, and with almost the exact same set list every night they've had plenty of time to work out the kinks), and it gave the performers the freedom to let their attention wander out into the crowd, where they spent a great deal of time making faces at their doting fans and laughing playfully to each other and the room.
Their stage banter was rehearsed and fairly cheesy ("Don't tell the other cities, but I think you're the best crowd on the whole tour," McIntyre cooed, while Wahlberg apparently likes to tell every city how good they smell), but there was also something very genuine in the way they connected with the crowd, with both bands making a point to splinter apart and work their way up through the aisles of the first tier during one of their songs.
And though Wahlberg made a point to thank NKOTBSB's "two generations" of fans, the consensus among the crowd was that, even if a small matter of a few years of puberty was enough to divide us into New Kids and Backstreet factions in the '90s, it's all equally as satisfying and flashback-inducing now. We found ourselves united in shameless, childlike spasms of glee.
Personal bias: New Kids girl all the way, though I was surprised by how many Backstreet Boys songs I was familiar with.
The crowd: Caucasian children of the '80s and '90s, with a surprising amount of boys along for the ride.
Overheard in the crowd: "I'm too old for this shit!" -- One of the many women in my row who would startle and scream every time fireworks boomed on stage.
Random notebook dump: I suppose I should mention that Jordan was always my New Kid. Also, their faces all look eerily similar to how they looked as kids, like they've been preserved in a wax museum.
Viva La Vida/Single/The One
Get Down (You're the One for Me)
You Got It (The Right Stuff)
Larger Than Life
Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)/Valentine Girl/If You Go Away/Please Don't Go Girl
Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely/10,000 Promises/I'll Never Break Your Heart/Inconsolable/Drowning/Incomplete
Step By Step
My Favorite Girl/Games/Click Click Click/Tonight
Shape of My Heart
As Long As You Love Me
All I Have to Give/If You Stay (with excerpts of "Raspberry Beret")
Quit Playing Games (With My Heart) (with riffs of "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough")
I'll Be Loving You (Forever)
I Want It That Way
Don't Turn Out the Lights
Everybody (Backstreet's Back)
Hangin' Tough (with excerpts from "We Will Rock You")
Medley/mashup: Everybody (Backstreet's Back)/Hangin' Tough (Reprise)
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