Surrounded by throngs of women in age- and weather-inappropriate outfits, as well as girls in t-shirts and oversized pins that triggered in me as much nostalgia as going back to my first-grade classroom, I took my seat in section 126 at Madison Square Garden last night and waited for the New Kids on the Block to start their show.
Though I’d met the New Kids on the Block earlier that day, this would be only my second time ever seeing them perform live. The first time was in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Richfield Coliseum, which no longer exists anymore (the venue, not Cleveland), and it was either back in 1988 or 1989. For the sake of a solid, strong-sounding number, let’s say it was 1988, even though that makes me sound even older than I am. Anyway, the last time I’d seen New Kids on the Block perform was about 20 years ago. And while back then, my affections for Donnie, Joey, Jordan, Jon, and Danny were an ever-revolving carousel -- truly, I had a different favorite Kid every week -- on the whole, my sheer devotion to New Kids as a unit could barely be contained by my little body in a too-big Joey McIntyre tee and mini porkpie hat, and don't think for a second that I didn't have that hat, because I totally did.
Anyway, armed with the wisdom of years, I settled in and killed time until the show started by reading the text messages on the Jumbotron. My favorite: “I came all the way from my mom’s ovaries for this concert. I’m the oldest ho here!” Not sure how the two are related, and with the exception of any possible test tube babies in the audience, it’s likely that everyone in the audience started off in an ovary, at least genetically. But whatever.
Anyway, what follows is a (basically) step-by-step (if you will) account of New Kids on the Block’s Monday, October 27, 2008 concert at Madison Square Garden.
SO! The house lights finally go down, everyone begins the slow ascent into freak-out mode. The onstage video screens start showing some cinematic pre-roll clip that announces how New Kids are totally back! It sounds sort of like Gladiator and looks like one of those Left Behind movies Kirk Cameron’s in.
The guys rise up from a platform like a boy band phoenix and launch into their new single, “Single,” which segued nicely into “My Favorite Girl” (a song I completely forgotten I’d loved). Joey reaches the most Jonas-y levels of squeaks and squeals. The middle schoolers near me lose their marbles. I do the math and fail to understand. Jordan re-demonstrates his Moonwalk skills as well as that token falsetto, which didn’t sound a day over 1989. By the time the New Kids busted out “The Right Stuff,” everyone in the damn house was doing full to modified version of the “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh” dance, and I was praying that the rebar, steel, and concrete reinforcements of MSG were working overtime.
Next up was “Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time).” Did YOU know that song was originally by The Delfonics and NOT the New Kids, by the way? True story. Also true, Jordan did this one in a sweet-ass Sinatra-/ Ne-Yo-style fedora. (Sinatra will become relevant again later on in the night, by the way.) Also, a few of the other guys had on some super-bedazzled pants that were slightly off-putting and less-than-mind-blowing.
Since this was one of “the slow jam” portions of the evening, it was only natural that “Please Don’t Go Girl” followed. Unfortunately, “Please Don’t Go Girl” was super off-key. Blown earpiece? Who knows? But Joey totally redeemed himself later that night. Not redeeming, however, the putrid smell of sauerkraut coming from the row in front of me. I’m pretty sure someone was eating just sauerkraut on a bun, no hot dog. Or just straight kraut right out of the jar. Not the New Kids' fault or anything, I know, but I about heaved.
Next, New Kids brought the energy (and reality) back up a few notches and did “Grown Man,” which is their new track with Pussycat Dolls and an Aretha Franklin sample. Unfortunately none of the Pussycat Dolls were available that night, nor was Aretha, so instead Nicole Scherzinger’s visage was projected on the screen while the guys strutted their mature stuff for their mature, screaming fans. New Kids -- now with innuendo!
Oh yeah, at this point, Donnie, by far the chattiest of the New Kids (/Men) swapped out his Boston cap for a Yankees cap and made a really big deal out of that. Sports fans hooted and whooped and hollered at the appropriate times. There was then some additional banter, and then Donnie asked everyone how his ass looked. The general consensus seemed to be that it did, indeed, look fine as hell. Not-so-fine: the regurgitated hot dog smell rising up from the seats in front of me.
Right. So then they did “Games,” a testosterone-packed chant song, during which they drove home the song’s theme by flashing images of their favorite Boston sports figures on the screen, which was a little heavy-handed, but was at least a refreshing departure from what looked like Windows 98 screensavers. Then again, they could’ve been projecting gruesome, bloody images of war on the video screens, and chances are, no one would’ve cared or noticed. Oh yeah, Danny did some pretty awesome breakdancing moves, including what looked like the infamous crabwalk from The Exorcist.
After all that high-impact caloric expenditure, it was once again time to “take it down a few notches,” if you will. The New Kids did the “sitting-on-steps-at-various-levels” thing and performed “If You Go Away,” which they parlayed into what I refer to as the “Oscars’ Fallen Homies Salute.” Now, don’t get me wrong -- people dying is CERTAINLY not funny. Especially not Danny’s mother, whom he spoke about briefly and talked about her battle with breast cancer, and he discussed the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the importance of finding a cure, which was quite meaningful. They remembered Donnie’s late father too, as well as other departed members of the New Kids’ families and their friends, which personalized the show even more. What felt a bit more arbitrary, though were the tributes to Frank Sinatra, Aaliyah, Luther Vandross, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, Tupac and Biggie (in the same photo), Kurt Cobain (Really!??!!?!?!???), James Brown, and Heath Ledger. I mean, yes, it’s sad, and clearly New Kids were influenced by Frank Sinatra and Luther Vandross, but a LOT of people died in the past 15 years, you know? Anyway, I felt moderately uncomfortable.
Okay, so now we're like barely even to the halfway point of the show! Not even joking. Honest!
+ More after the jump!...
Next up, the New Kids take the show to the middle of the floor on this elevated rotating platform with a piano in the center for “Tonight,” one of my favorite late-era New Kids songs based on the theatrical, retrospective nature of the lyrics and the Sgt. Pepper-esque horns. “2 in the Morning” continued the theater-in-the-round extravaganza and encouraged men everywhere to put on their favorite boxers, ladies everywhere to open up the lines of communication and refuse to go bed mad or even watch Grey’s Anatomy angry. True enough! That begat “Dirty Dancing,” which featured a frenzied dancer gyrating on top of the piano -- a scene I’d never dreamed of when listening to “Popsicle” 22 years ago. (And by the way, they didn’t perform that one. So robbed!)
Okay, then there was this interlude situation where Joey performed some kind of interpretative dance, clearly demonstrating the skills he’d picked up on Broadway and on Dancing With the Stars, Season 1, and while it was well done, it was almost as uncomfortable as the fallen homies salute. Then, again, someone in front of us started burping up hot dogs, which smelled, as my friend Amber so succinctly put it, like a hot dog farted, and I died a little bit.
But not as much as everyone died when Jordan performed “Baby I Believe In You” with his white button-down shirt open, flapping open in the wind (made possible by the wind machines, not just the power of his abs), revealing all of his bare-chested glory. It felt a lot like Michael Jackson circa “You Are Not Alone” or Jimmy Fallon spoofing Enrique Iglesias at the 2002 VMAs. Oh right, then Jordan resurrected his solo hit, “Give It To You,” which was a total crowd-pleaser, especially to this crowd member. And to round out the solo selections, Joey McIntyre did “Stay the Same,” which felt a lot like R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” but cleaner. They brought out a gospel choir for that one. Super serious.
Then it was time for Donnie to talk more. He talked a lot about how he really really loved New York, and used the mic time to talk about how he came to New York to find a bride, and then launched into “Cover Girl,” which truly, I could’ve done without. That song was weak sauce back in ’89, and sounded just as MIDI 21 years later. Around that point, Donnie gyrated until his pants fell down and revealed his drawers, a la Marky Mark, a la decades past, a la embarrassment.
Next was “I'll Be Lovin’ You (Forever),” and the guys changed into crisp, clean whites for a timeless, very holiday 1988/ 1998/ 2008 feel. (Sadly, they didn’t do “Funky, Funky Christmas,” though my friend and I sent a few texts back and forth wishing they would.) Smoke rolling out from their feet added to the heavenly, dreamy drama-drams, as Jordan wailed it and nailed it. Are you still reading this far?
After that, Donnie started basically talking about how you should go home and essentially have sex, prompting a different friend to send me a text which read “I’m uncomfortable with the sexual nature of this show!” I'm pretty sure he meant it. Anyway, Donnie appealed to all the lovely ladies and told us that if we were in fact feeling a “tingling” feeling, that we should take that “tingling love home to 'your man',"and “you put that on him.” Which only made me want to take that home and take a freezing cold shower, but apparently a couple near me was clearly influenced, as they were halfway to baby making, while the Jumbotron flashed to a woman in the crowd wearing a bra and no shirt. At that point I realized someone spilled a beer on my purse. I think it was one of the middle schoolers sitting near me.
Two more new-school hits followed: “Click, Click, Click” and “Summertime,” which featured shots of waves crashing ashore. So then that was ALMOST the end, but do you think New Kids on the Block would’ve rocked WITHOUT first hangin’ tough? Please.
For their encore, the Beantown boys made a five-gun salute to their roots and their love of Boston sports. The MSG video screens lit up with a Kevin Garnett’s pre-game scream (or was that a Gatorade commercial?), and in rushed New Kids on the Block -- in customized Celtics jerseys -- who took everyone to church with a medley of “Step by Step,” “Hangin’ Tough,” and “We Will Rock You.”
So, did New Kids on the Block have all the right moves? Not always. Some of their moves were a bit slower than they were in '88. Less stepping, more sliding. But did they still have the right stuff? Basically. Did anyone go home disappointed? Doubtful. True, the choreo wasn’t as lockstep crisp as it was back in the day, but they’re not 15 anymore. (Danny’s got a teenaged son, to put things into perspective here.) But Joey and Jordan can still hit all the high notes, and Donnie can still charm the pants off the crowd… or at least charm his own pants off for the crowd. I think the audience wouldn’t have even cared if the guys simply walked out and stood in front of a giant screen and played their old videos all night and just let everyone gawk at them. But instead, they performed their asses off for two hours with just the right mix of swoony ‘80s ballads, tough-guy anthems, and well-mixed, of-the-now dance-pop. I was exhausted just watching it for two hours and I’m younger than those guys.
So, at the end of the night, if being entertained by five guys dancing, rapping, and singing falsetto and singing “yeah, girl... hey girl” a lot for two straight hours isn’t the right stuff, then I just don’t know what is. And 12-year-old thinks so too.
+ Watch 13 New Kids on the Block videos, and enjoy one they left out of last night's show, "Call It What You Want."