NKOTBSB at the IZOD Center

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Monday night's NKOTBSB concert at New Jersey's IZOD Center brought out a side of me not often seen. You see, I hardly ever dance or sing along at concerts. The way I see it is this: I'm paying the singer to do the singing and I want to hear the singer sing the song, not me … or a fellow concertgoer. But something about the NKOTBSB concert, maybe the nostalgia or my familiarity with all the songs or the stage setup, made the night feel less like a concert and more like a party the New Kids and Backstreet Boys were hosting.

I spent the morning of the concert mourning the fact that I would not be able to go to Donnie and Jordan's after party (if I did, I would have had no way of getting back to NYC), primping, and watching the concert NKOTBSB did for Z100/KTU. Up until that point, I was really not interested in seeing the Backstreet Boys. I saw them around this time last year (around the time the collaboration between the two groups was in its embryonic stage), and though they were great and they performed tons of new material, my heart just wasn't really in it anymore. But when they went acoustic on the live show, with my teenage dream Nick Carter on the guitar, I remembered again why I had loved the Boys so much all these years, and just how talented they are as a group.

A few hours later at the IZOD Center, tons of people were already lined up, though doors were not to open for about another 45 minutes. I had to get to the arena early to pick up my tickets from will call as the originals had mistakenly been tossed out. After picking up our tickets, we made our way to the line to get in and I found the crowd to be surprisingly young. I swear there were large groups of 15 to 16 year-olds present. How? What? Why? Interesting. I noticed mostly Backstreet Boys fans around me, and again, I was reminded that it wasn't just the New Kids who would be performing.

The doors opened not long after and my friend and I made a beeline for the merchandise stand. I wanted to get my hands on a signed Jordan Knight CD since I had stupidly thought at his release party that I wouldn't want one. I also picked up my first-ever tour book. Yes, that's right, first ever. I'd never thought they were worth the money and that I'd be able to find scans online. But I hadn't really seen (or looked for) scans of the NKOTBSB tour book and I was just feeding the nostalgia, really. After grabbing a drink, I went back for one of those giant retro New Kids buttons. So useless but so adorable.

Then we made our way to our seats.

I was really impressed. The guys really weren't kidding when they said that there isn't a bad seat in the house (well, maybe except for the nosebleeds). Rather than taking floor seats near the B-stage (or "tip"), I had opted to sit in the 100s midway between the main stage and the B-stage … and now I saw that I would have an excellent view. IZOD also seemed to be significantly smaller than most of the venues I'd seen bigger acts at in New York over the years. (As it turns out -- though you won't be able to tell from my videos -- the sound there was a little suspect. I've seen BSB many times and never had Howie's speaking voice sounded like a chipmunk. Joey's voice was kind of loopy and Jordan actually sounded like himself in the '80s. Weird.)

After sitting through two opening acts (one leaps and bounds more intolerable than the other) and going for a beer run and yet another bathroom stop, we settled back in our seats and the show began.

As the nine guys' faces blazed across the screens, I got a sense of what kind of crowd was in attendance. Joey was the most popular New Kid, with Donnie following him and Jordan falling a bit further behind. With the Backstreet Boys, Nick and Brian got the most applause and screams, and AJ scored quite a few himself. (Poor Howie.)

Now before I go any further, I think it needs to be said that I tried very, very hard to not spoil the concert for myself before going. I even did the impossible -- I avoided watching clips from their long-awaited hometown Fenway concert just days before. I had accidentally seen the names of the first two numbers performed and the last two numbers, but other than that, I really had no clue what I was about to witness.

I will say that I don't really even remember the opening song. I know it started out with "Viva la Vida" and turned into some sort of mix of the newer New Kids songs … "Summertime" and maybe "Single" and "Dirty Dancing"? I don't recall the Backstreet Boys singing at all. But I do remember women around me screaming through the entirety of this opening song.

By the time the New Kids did "The Right Stuff," I had pulled myself together and was really enjoying myself. Of all the songs performed that night, I think "The Right Stuff" was second most popular only to the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way". And then the New Kids did their ballad medley, which thrilled me -- I had NO idea they would perform so many oldies … "Didn't I Blow Your Mind"! "Valentine Girl" OMG! And one of my all-time favorite NKOTB songs, "If You Go Away".

The Backstreet Boys were far easier to capture in photographs.
Possibly because they move around far less than the New Kids.

The Backstreet Boys thrilled me a little too, performing a handful of songs that I'd never heard in the four previous times I'd seen them and songs I think very few American fans had seen live either: "10,000 Promises," "If You Stay" and "Drowning" (the least thrilling for me).

My favorite performance of the night had to have been "Step By Step". The song is one of my favorite New Kids songs and the energy of the crowd when the lights went up on Jordan standing alone on the B-stage was just incredible. Never mind the fact that no one around me seemed to know any of the "steps". I represented.

Strangely enough, I felt I was having the most fun when the New Kids performed other people's songs. Like in the "My Favorite Girl", Poison" (Bell Biv DeVoe) and "Games" medley, though I shouted the lyrics to "Games" at the top of my lungs when no one else around me knew "five bad brothers from the Beantown land" or "still kickin' ASS!" [And was mildly annoyed when the girls around me started giggling at Jordan's falsetto during "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)".]

The not-so-surprising guest of the night was Naughty By Nature, whose song "O.P.P." I do actually remember -- and well -- from my childhood. (And oh my goodness, I just learned the meaning of "O.P.P." when I looked the song up on Wikipedia. Did I spend my childhood chanting sexual innuendoes?) While neither the New Kids nor the Backstreet Boys did any singing during this guest number, they danced across the stage and Nick and Joey did a funny heel-tapping dance and Jordan and Brian did the running man … and it was 1991 all over again and I was in a very happy place.

This was my first time seeing the New Kids On The Block in concert and my first chance to gather a firsthand impression of them as a group. From all the interviews and videos, my impression was that they were really close friends, had tons of personality, were a little rough around the edges, but were oodles of fun. At the concert, the impression I got was that the group consisted of five individuals and not necessarily a cohesive musical group. I felt that different members had varying degrees of investment in the group.

You might not be able to tell, but this is Donnie Wahlberg sailing through a sea of confetti.

It was obvious to me (even more so than before the concert) that Donnie was most invested in the group. I found him to be the warmest and most democratic in terms of interaction with the audience. He waved and smiled at everyone. Jordan was slow to warm up during the night but took his place as the "lead singer". Having seen him do his thing on his own, it was definitely interesting to see him be so much more reticent and take a backseat as a part of the group. He did grow increasingly energetic over the course of the night.

I guess what surprised me the most about the New Kids in Monday night's performance was the lack of "Joey time" during the concert. One of the biggest complaints I've heard from New Kids fans about this collaborative tour is that there isn't any time for the groups to talk to the audience, and I think that caused some of the void that I was sensing in personality. Aside from "Please Don't Go Girl" and a handful of lines in the newer songs, I felt Joey kind of faded into the background with Jon and Danny. I was kind of disappointed not to have seen Joey shine as much as I know he could've.

To me, the Backstreet Boys felt much more like a group, though their personalities seemed to be all over the place -- especially on Monday night. Their personalities seemed a little bigger than usual, particularly Nick's. He was kind of off-the-walls crazy, bouncing and jumping around in a way I have never seen him. Though he has always been my favorite Backstreet Boy (and the love of my teenage years), he kind of rubbed me the wrong way! To me, it felt like he was very absorbed in his own performance and not really giving back as much as everyone else was to the audience.

The Backstreet Boys definitely made better use of the stage -- they spent most of their time on the "shaft" and the "tip" while the New Kids spent the majority of the time on the main stage. I think touring with the New Kids has prompted the Backstreet Boys to step up their game, because I've never seen them do so much dancing before. I'd also been worried because Brian's vocals have been noticeably shaky, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was stronger in person than it'd been in the various television appearances they've made over the past few months.

Brian Littrell of the Backstreet Boys

But these are small criticisms. I had a really, really good time.

The dismantling of the "penis stage"

Usually great concerts whiz by like a blink of an eye, but this one felt very much like the two-and-a-half hours it lasted. I'd like to think that I'm finally starting to get this whole "living in the moment" thing down pat. I really had a fantastic time and I felt like I was at a '90s block party with friends.

And the icing on the cake was waiting an hour for the bus back to Port Authority ... and meeting a girl from Australia who had gone to the concert solo! She was visiting New York City and had randomly checked to see if the New Kids were on tour in the area. She said somewhat regretfully that the New Kids never visit Australia and their popularity had waned there, but that the concert may have been the best night of her life. Hear, hear!

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