The Right Stuff

There's something to be said for consistency. The other night I went to see New Kids on the Block perform for the first time in 17 years or something like that. The last time I went to see them I was in an oversized knit sweater and braces, let's put it that way. When you go to something after so long, you run a risk. Will it be ridiculous? Will it finally justify everyone making fun of you for ever having been a fan, even when it was borderline socially acceptable?

As we pulled up to the concert I got my first text message from a friend asking whether the fans were 16 or 33. I ignored the direct slight to my own thirtysomethingness, but naturally had to confirm that the only children or youth of any sort in the confines of the Cox Arena had been brought there by their mothers. We all hurriedly peed, because by the time you're 30 you know that all the coffee you drank to get through your day has a price to pay. And you barely glance at the memorabilia because it's a recession and while you are not old enough to keep yourself from Jordan Donnie Joey Jon and Danny, you are old enough to keep yourself from bright pink tee shirts you can't wear even on casual Friday.

You sit down and see that, all techy-like, they've set it up so you can text message to a screen above the stage. These texts are increasingly profane, but funny, because most of the people sending them are married and write things like "I'm married now... but he's not here!" You might send a text that says something to the effect of "Jordan, I'm legal now!" Your mom wouldn't be proud but she's also not your chaperone this time around. Unlike the concert back in 1990 or whatever it was, she doesn't need to take her pack of cigarettes and go lock herself into the elevator and pull the emergency stop just to give herself a break from the screaming (yours included).

The concert begins, but for your friends who aren't really interested, you'll fast forward through performances by Lady Gaga (whose song you can't get out of your head) and Natasha Bedingfield, who ends up being an incredibly talented performer and frankly blows your mind with how overproduced her albums are compared to her ability to carry a mic and make it happen. But this post isn't about her, so you move on.

When a band decides to go on a reunion tour, there are a few different ways they can play it. They can try to pretend that they never left the spotlight. Maybe it's even true- maybe they played the wedding and country fair circuit. Or they can pretend that they wanted or needed the time off. But what New Kids did was something I didn't expect- they were incredibly humble about it and they absolutely reveled in the attention. I mean, they acted like they were 18 years old again, hamming it up for the audience and soaking up every blood-curdling scream that flowed forth from the sea of estrogen.

I've never been to a concert where there were no men. When I say there were no men, I mean I spotted 4 husbands/boyfriends and a couple of security guys. That was IT. And you would have to be a very secure man to go to a New Kids concert, because women were ready to chuck their husbands for a go at the boys from Beantown. I've never seen anything like it. At one point they performed out in the audience and someone threw huge granny panties and I'm still not sure to this day if they were a joke.

Another question when a band hits the road again is- do you pretend that you never had your old hits? Do you try to pimp your new album which is good enough, or do you do a crowd-pleaser? Always knowing their audience, they threw in only a few songs from their (actually quite fantastic) album The Block and instead performed every song I could think of from their Greatest Hits album. Now, if it wasn't enough to HEAR Hanging Tough, let me assure you that they performed the exact same (yes, I know them by heart) dance moves as they did in the tour of yesteryear. So here we have these guys, now in their 30s, doing their 1990s cutting-edge dance moves. Can I get a running man? They were absolutely comedic in the way they performed, stopping the show to make fun of each other and just not take themselves seriously. Their moves weren't quite as smooth as back in the day, but try lining up some thirtysomething guys and making them dance in unison. It's an ugly process and they made it as pretty as they could. For those of you wondering, they did the leg-swingy-Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh Right Stuff move. Worth the price of admission, naturally.

This, my friends, is something that is missing from the younger generation of performers. The folks like Justin who are on their first go-around, they still take themselves so seriously, it's their art. I'm not saying they're not talented, but sometimes I go see these shows and you can see the ego oozing from their pores. These guys were freeze-dancing and making fun of sticking a shoe up each other's asses. We didn't have to take them too seriously because, well, they didn't.

Lest you be concerned, there were ample costume changes, giving it a Vegas spectacle feel (oooh, idea!) They each had a chance to perform alone for the audience, so all the girls could have their Joey time, or their Jordan time. Jordan performed one of my favorite (because it's frankly ridiculous) quasi-Michael-Jackson thingies. (see photos, above) He stands all windblown and does MJ moves while singing a ballad called "Baby I Believe In You". Oh, you laugh, but his belief in me got me through junior high, people! They didn't try to jazz it up. Maybe he learned because Jordan had tried to re-record NKOTB songs as a solo album and it flopped. So he knows his place, and he knows his place was before 1992. They just rewinded and, for a night, we could all be 13 again.

There's a lot I wouldn't want to have back about being 13, but that rush of being completely starstruck is something I haven't felt in years. Dancing to good music, belting out the lyrics, swooning with your girlfriends, that's stuff money can't buy (ok, it can, I have the $100 ticket stub to prove it). Sure, this time there were differences; the girl behind me did her banshee cry again and again, and I was going to hit her. Back in the day, *I* was the banshee (and probably the reason mom ended up in the elevator). So yeah, maybe I"m a bit older, but it's fun to grow up with your music. I've been to so many shows and yet I don't think I've enjoyed one that transported me like this.

After a few of the aforementioned costume changes, I noticed that Donnie was always wearing a baseball cap. As those of you who have seen his film appearances know, he is balding. So the guy throws a cap on no matter what. He tried to play it like it was just his hoodlum street style, but thirty year old women know better. You know, because none of the guys we know are thinning up top, right? ;) He kept referring to his sexy speaking voice in a noble effort to distract us.

For all the fun and games there were some sobering moments in the show too. They did a slide show of people who have passed away, including some of their parents. It's something we couldn't have dreamt of at that age. And as we watched the show I analyzed them as an older woman. I used to think Jordan was the hottest. Susie thought Jon was (and these days I might agree with her, despite the fact that he isn't of the liking-girls persuasion from what I understand). Every girl had a New Kid she associated with- just ask them. And who we liked tells you a bit about us. Donnie was for the edgy girls. Jordan was for the girls who like a hyper guy. Joey was for the girls who like a cutie. Jon was for the girls who like the strong silent type. And everyone knows that no one liked Danny. He was the fifth round draft pick, and since in junior high it's absolutely impossible to maintain a group of more than four friends, it just wasn't an issue.

I have to be honest here and confess that I spent much of the ride to the arena making fun of Danny and how no one knows what his part in the band really is, etc. So of course then I lost it when the first song started and they forgot to turn his spotlight on-- punchline for all my jokes! But then early into the show he started breakdancing and he was *really* good, headstands and all. Hm! This guy can dance and is a breast cancer fundraiser? Cute! And there you have it- my evolving maturity as illustrated through NKOTB attractions. Who wants the guy who everyone wants? Not me! For Susie's benefit I'll add that Jon was super hot but is also (says the rumor mill) gay.

The most telling part of the show was when they did 1010249024 encores. We were the end of their American tour, and, as much as *we* didn't want to go home, you could tell they didn't want us to leave. I've seen some great shows lately, but the common theme has been that the performers make you feel grateful that they bothered to perform for you. It's like they're doing you a favor. But these guys knew they had been touched by the magic comeback dust, and they weren't fronting about it. It was refreshing to see stars realize there's an element of luck. I can only hope they're reinventing stardom.

I don't have to tell you that I"m already excited about their next tour. For two hours I got the gift of being 13 again, minus the sea green stirup pants and the perm. Perfection.


jonyangorg said...

"and someone threw huge granny panties and I'm still not sure to this day if they were a joke."
This is a gem of a post. If only I had gone and been the fifth guy in the crowd.

Also, I'd like to explore further the idea that four is the magic number for a group of female friends. I feel like it's a truism, but are there exceptions to the rule that we know about? Hum....

Kate said...

Fantastic post. I'm sorry I missed this tour.