“Somebody said somebody wouldn’t last too long. Somebody’s still goin’ strong.”
It was my absolute pleasure to spend last Thursday night at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey in the company of 12 perfectly-aged song-and-dance men, as well as 15,000 of my fellow screaming fans. Man bands are the new boy bands. And they are like a fiiiiiiine wine, my friends.
On the heels of the NKOTBSB mash-up tour, this bill brought the New Kids on the Block together with R&B legends Boyz II Men and the newly reformed 98 Degrees. And to avoid any confusion about the reason this tour exists, they decided to name it…wait for it…The Package. I am not making this up. Ladies, line up the babysitter, put on your sparkliest Loft blouse, and kiss your husband goodbye. Your fantasy sidepieces await, and they’re wearing matching outfits.
Boyz II Men
The show started at 7:30 on the dot when the three remaining members of Boyz II Men took the stage. I’ve written a report on them for eighth grade music class; had many a sweaty-palmed slow dance to their songs; and cried with my classmates to “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye” at my junior high graduation, but I’ve NEVER seen them live. I’m happy to report that my 20 years worth of expectations were met. Even minus an original member, their harmonies on classics like “On Bended Knee” and “End of the Road” have never sounded better. They threw roses to ladies in the audience during “I’ll Make Love to You,” which was clearly the highlight of their career and this set. And what is it about confetti drops that’s so magical? I’m a sucker for a confetti drop.
The set was short and sweet, so the group wasn’t able to venture outside of their biggest hits. They closed out their portion of the evening with “Motown Philly,” obviously, and the choreography was ON POINT. They may be a little older and a little bigger, but once they started dancing, the years fell off. I hope I’m that light on my feet when I’m 45. Or ever.
We had little time to process that bit of crippling nostalgia before 98 Degrees was introduced. Ah, 98 Degrees. You remember them, right? Nick and Drew Lachey, Jeff Timmons, and The Other One. (Sorry, that’s mean. His name is Justin or something.) They were best known for their ballads and their biceps, but definitely weren’t on the same level of dance game as their late ’90s boy band peers. Every time the 98 Degrees guys danced, you knew it was because someone told them they HAD to. They do a lot of box-stepping, I’ll just say that.
They announced their comeback last summer, and I was at their first full live performance at the Mixtape Festival in Hershey, PA. 98 Degrees kept most of that same setlist for The Package Tour, except for tragically dropping “True to Your Heart,” their flawless contribution to the closing credits of Mulan, for some of their new stuff. It’s not bad, but of course, we were all there to sway to “I Do (Cherish You)” and “The Hardest Thing.” We were reminded of that directive to every early ’00s pop act to work in some Latin influence, however misguided, by the delightfully ridiculous “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche).” And I will be forever grateful to 98 Degrees for opening with “Heat It Up,” a b-side from their second album, with some of the ’90-est ’90s lyrics that ever ’90-ed. Remember how all boy bands had to have a song that introduced themselves and/or explained their name? Jam on cause Backstreet’s got it. ‘N Sync has got the flow.
“Baby, let me love you till the 98th degree, girl,
And heat it up.
Girl, let’s heat it up.
(I’m dowwwwwn for ya.)
Halfway through the set, every member but Justin (womp womp) stripped down to the boy band company-issued wifebeater. Good news: the barbed wire tattoos are still there. It’s a comfort to know that some things never change.
They’re perfectly capable performers with some songs that I LOVE, but there’s something about 98 that I’ve never really connected with. I’ve seen them live plenty of times between the height of their popularity and this new era, but they’ve never inspired serious fangirling. Show a little personality, boys. Fandom cannot survive on torsos alone.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK!!dhfdskdkfhksd!
After a quick intermission and half an order of arena french fries, the lights went down again for the intro to the main event. The disembodied voice of Donnie Wahlberg made every person in the entire arena pledge “to spend the next two hours having the time of my life.” He went on, and we did as we were told: “Repeat after me…This is MY night. I worked hard for this night. I deserve this night. I earned this night. And together, we OWN tonight.”
And that’s when things got really good.
I was a little too young to be completely in to the New Kids back in the day. Any interest I had was to mimic my older friends, but I had a cassette or a piece of merch here and there. I didn’t pay much attention to the initial comeback and went to the NKOTBSB show expecting Backstreet to blow NKOTB out of the water. I will forever be making amends to the boy band gods for this mistake. The New Kids on the Block are no joke.
While the other acts were performing TO the room, the New Kids OWNED the room. We weren’t there to be observers of their set. They were hosting the greatest party ever, and we were all invited. And they GET it. NKOTB knows why they’re there; they know why WE’RE there; and they deliver. They are exactly who you came to see and they don’t try to shrug off your perception of them. They play around and have fun with it instead.
What if I told you that the other guys sang, “Girl, look at that body. Girl, look at the body. Girl, look at that body – he works out!” while Jordan Knight pulled his shirt off and stuck his hands down his pants while standing on a platform suspended 15 feet over the crowd? What if I told you that the live version of “The Right Stuff” includes an interlude wherein the entire band pelvic thrusts once, twice, three times, and then TEN times in a row in perfect sync? What I told you that Danny Wood picked a sign out of the hands of a girl in the audience that said “Got Wood?” and danced around holding it in front of his crotch? What if I told you that, during “Single,” Donnie laid down on the stage and FRENCH KISSED some lady in the front row?! Would you believe me? If you don’t, the evidence is probably on YouTube by now.
The guys performed for TWO STRAIGHT HOURS and their energy never, ever flagged. Even Jon looked like he was having a good time! The set spanned their now 25-year-old legacy, and you might be surprised how well songs like “Hangin’ Tough” stand up. The new album, 10, improves on every listen and especially by hearing the songs performed live. It’s ballad-heavy and I was hoping for some more bangers, but since the show, I can’t stop listening to “The Whisper” and “(I Like The) Remix” on repeat. And of course, they covered plenty of “The Block,” the album that launched their comeback. Like I said, I didn’t pay much mind when it came out in 2008. But now I’d venture to say that it’s one of the ten most satisfying pop/R&B albums of that decade. Come at me, I dare you.
There was no sign of material from any of the boys’ solo careers, which is most likely in respect for the group as a whole. As much as I would have loved to hear Joey Mac on “I Love You Came Too Late” or Jordan and Donnie’s “Stingy” remix, they save those songs for the epic and INSANE after-parties they host after every show. (I’ll be attending my second Atlantic City DDub-hosted after-party in July and look forward to reporting back on it, should I survive.) Still, each of the main vocalists had a chance to shine by taking showcased solos in group numbers. Jordan will STILL be loving us forever, after all, and Donnie remains on the hunt for his “Cover Girl.” While Jordan still hits that falsetto, Joey aka Joey Joe aka Joey Mac aka “The Kid” gives us an all-grown-up and CHILL-INDUCING “Please Don’t Go, Girl.” Watch, listen, react:
And then there’s Donnie Wahlberg.
Donnie is the ring master of this circus of debauchery and no one has ever been happier in their job. I have the distinct impression that he has been the heart and soul of this second life of the New Kids on the Block and at no point has he ever looked like he’s NOT having the time of this life. As my friend tweeted from the Pittsburgh show: “I will give you a million dollars to name someone who loves the stage more than Donnie Wahlberg.”
The only thing Donnie loves more than being on stage is his fans. He doesn’t tolerate them, he doesn’t pity them. He la-oooooves them. Short, tall, fat, thin, young, old – he worships the women that worship him and it is SO fun to watch. When it comes to boy bands, it’s one thing to BE sexy. It’s entirely another to make everyone around you FEEL sexy. This is what makes you a star, people.
My favorite part of the whole night was when Icona Pop’s “I Love It” blasted from the speakers and the New Kids and the rest of the Izod Center just had a GIANT dance party. No choreography, no performance, just a band and their fans going completely H.A.M. I didn’t feel like I was in Section 122, Row 4, Seat 14. I felt like I was in someone’s backyard, singing the words along with everyone else in the crowd who identified as a “’90s bitch.” And it was an anthem for anyone who had taken or was expecting to take any shit for her decision to be at that show that night.
“I don’t care.
“I love it!”
My face still hurts from smiling.
In conclusion, it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time, and that’s why these kinds of groups will be around to entertain us forever. Take it away, AJ:
“And to all the non-believers? I say, ‘PEACE.'”