You know what’s even louder than the squeals of 15,000-plus 13-year-old girls?
The shrieking of 15,000-plus 35-year-old women.
At Wednesday’s NKOTBSB show – a boy band behemoth if there ever was one – the predominantly female audience howled, cried, clicked dozens of cell phone camera photos and joyfully wallowed in the 2 ½-hour nostalgia fiesta unfolding before them.
These types of novelty packages are always a risky proposition. Will fans still care about their teenage crushes 20 years later? Are those teenage crushes in decent enough physical and vocal shape to endure a lengthy tour? Was the music just a forgettable snapshot of a few years in pop culture or is it authentic in spirit?
The answers: Absolutely. Completely. Surprisingly so.
A decade separates the insane peaks of success for ‘80s hunks New Kids on the Block (Jordan and Jonathan Knight, Danny Wood, Joey McIntyre and Donnie Wahlberg) and ‘90s heartthrobs Backstreet Boys (Georgia resident Brian Littrell, Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, A.J. McLean and former member and non-tour participant Kevin Richardson). But, as evidenced at Philips Arena, the groups share a musical soul and a fan base that might squawk a little louder for one or the other, but is perfectly content in the presence of either.
This joint outing, which has been on the road about a month now, is a study in seamlessness.
With so many hits and personalities between the groups, it’s an impossibility to please everyone. But wow, did these guys try.
The show is a zesty production stocked with fireworks, fog, flood lights, air-launched streamers, hydraulic lifts bookending the stage and a nearly floor-length catwalk, and those essential elements of any boy band performance – synchronized choreography, soaring harmonies and songs about love, heartbreak and innocent lust.
Opening with a medley of NKOTB’s “Single” and BSB’s “The One,” with the melody of Coldplay “Viva La Vida” running beneath, the groups made it immediately apparent that the mission of the show would be, simply, to have fun.
It was a challenge that this crowd met six songs into the set when NKOTB broke into those patented sideways kicks while standing behind five mic stands for “You Got It (The Right Stuff).” The surging response actually caused the cement stairs to quiver from the excited bouncing of fans.
Every few songs, the groups would swap places on stage, with one team heading beneath the stage – where, Jordan Knight mentioned in a pre-show chat, he and the NKOTB guys are usually doing push-ups and weights while BSB performs.
It was well-organized musical chairs and gave the groups time for ballad segments that truly showcased their durable vocals.
Jordan Knight’s aching falsetto was as creamy as it was in 1989 as he sang their cover of The Delfonics’ “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind)” and McIntyre’s convincing pleading during “Please Don’t Go Girl” – capped with a run-and-slide move on the catwalk – reminded fans of his Broadway pedigree.
Then it was BSB’s turn to woo the ladies, as the guys emerged in white suits to harmonize beautifully on “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely” and “I’ll Never Break Your Heart,” which found them plucking some “Georgia peaches” from the crowd and serenading them on bended knee.
Throughout the show, some songs were dusted with slightly rougher edges provided by a tight four-piece band.
Obviously, it would look ridiculous for the macho Wahlberg to croon “Cover Girl” with its bubblegum perkiness of old, so it received a dose a rock guitar that better suited his persona. (Fans of the bad boy must have loved when he shredded his black tank top, superhero-style, to showcase the Wahlberg family abs.)
BSB, meanwhile, engaged in a spirited dance-off at the end of the still-lustrous “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart),” which dovetailed into a snippet of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”
As gratifying as the show was as sheer entertainment – and this combo crew seems to genuinely enjoy each other’s company – it was almost more heartening to see these guys, many of whom have dealt with substance abuse, health problems and other success-related issues, pull it together for one of the most entertaining tours of the summer.
Opening the show was Jordin Sparks, the 2007 “American Idol” winner who is most definitely not that shy teen anymore. Now 21 with a Beyonce-worthy figure, which she highlighted in a short, black fringe dress, the powerhouse vocalist squeezed several hits into a 25-minute set.
Performing against three vertical video panels, Sparks sang, with a track backing her, a string of tunes including “No Air,” “One Step At a Time” and “Tattoo,” sprinkled with snippets of songs from Pink and Jessie J. She wrapped her set with the new “I Am Woman,” a feisty empowerment anthem with multi-generational appeal.