New Kids on The Block
The O2, Greenwich, London
24th January 2009
At the height of New Kids on the Block’s fame, I had to drop my older son in school for 8 a.m., then drive across town in heavy traffic with my pre-teen daughter to her school for 8.30 a.m.. NKOTB were the craze at school, and that’s what we used to listen to in the car. Sometimes we could squeeze in Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits for a change, but her younger brother was also in the car and would go into paroxysms of rage at the line “Thunder only happens when it’s raining.” As he’d seen and his geography teacher had confirmed, Stevie Nicks was completely wrong on that one. They were too young to have an explanation that “raining” was metaphorical, and much too young to explain what Dylanologists claim it means in song lyrics. So NKOTB ruled. We had every album, I knew their names and supposed personalities and I could hum most of the songs. I don’t have to look them up now either … John, Jordan, Joey, Donny and Danny.
I never feel guilty about musical pleasures, and I had to admit that NKOTB had reasonably decent songs, professional backing and could pull off the vocals. My only regret is mentioning them in an exercise in a textbook. Never do that with pop artists, because five years on, a new generation will be asking “Who?”
We had major aggravation because we wouldn’t take her to see them in their heyday, so when they reformed and decided to tour again in 2009, it seemed churlish not to buy tickets and take her along to see them at London’s O2. They’re now called simply NKOTB, not being new, nor kids nor “on the block” these days. We bought the new album, The Block, and listened to it on the way there. They’re missing their original Svengali, Maurice Starr, but they know enough people to maintain quality.
I’d given the wise advice never to throw out the music you love in your teens, because years later you’ll be thrilled to take it out of the attic, and so a large cardboard box had survived complete with CDs, posters, a complete set of NKOTB dolls, buttons, T-shirts and all the other stuff. This is why we arrived at the O2 with my wife and daughter both clad in vintage NKOTB T-shirts and baseball caps, and me wearing a slightly fixed smile.
There were 20,000 in the audience, in a narrow late-20s / early-30s age range. I counted about five men in the entire audience, and two of them were holding hands rather sweetly. There were a lot of vintage NKOTB T-shirts about. I made a note to keep my Dylan T-shirts in good enough condition for his 80th birthday tour.
You know when 20,000 people have come out determined to have a really good time. The video screens build up the excitement, so by the time they hit the stage 19,995 women (and two men) were standing up and remained upright till the end. The screaming hit the level of a 1963 Beatles concert. Throughout the show they kept saying it was the best audience they’d played to. It was the biggest venue of their tour, and with the constant level of noise, it must have felt as if they were about to invade the Sudetenland, garner the first five slots in the chart and be crowned by the Pope in Rome. They weren’t of course. Welcome to the new world where you can sell out huge venues in minutes, be received rapturously, perform extremely well, dance your socks off, and sell very few records as a result. The Rolling Stones got there nearly forty years ago. Sadly, when it gets to the end, you’ve got to start all over again. At another venue. Next year.
The band were in the background, semi-screened off. If loops and lifts are used at concerts (as I’m sure they are) this was a loop and lift situation, but why argue? Madonna does. Michael Jackson did. Anyone who dances vigorously and sings has to some of the time.
So what’s it like if you decide to listen rather than adore? Too loud, probably for the acoustic, but not painfully so (unlike Ray Davies who plays at ear-splitting volumes and is said by road crews to be as deaf as a post, making it hard to communicate that he’s gone well past distort). The “kids” are all professional and have got back in physical training. Three of the five are distinctive and good singers.
They all got solo spots. Donnie Wahlberg had the group formed around his skills as an early white rapper and break-dancer and that’s what he still does on stage. You don’t get the impression that he’s a “singer” in a conventional sense. While he was in NKOTB, he launched his brother’s career as Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch, but little brother’s acting career now makes him the currently most famous Wahlberg. Donnie kept his hat on at all times. Whether this was attitude or being follicly-challenged, I can’t say.
Danny Wood is the one who looks like The Fonz, and certainly cuts it as a singer and personality.
Joey McIntyre was the cute, cuddly youngest one. It’s hard to do cute and cuddly when you get to age thirty-seven, but he gets his emotive solo spots and still comes across as vulnerable, cute teddy-bear. Jordan Knight … how can you say this without enraging people? Boy bands demand total allegiance to your chosen hero.
Jordan is the falsetto voice, and the one who worked hard trying to get his songs recorded by the original band. He’s the outstanding talent; the best singer and best songwriter. He’s deservedly had by far the strongest solo career as a singer, with platinum singles and gold albums. There’s always a Robbie Williams to emerge from a boy band, though Jordan hasn’t been proportionally quite as successful (in comparison to Robbie Williams). He did the full Michael Jackson singing into the slipstream with hair and shirt blowing in the wind.
Brother Jonathan, aged forty at the time of the concert, is now a real estate agent, and appears shy, and doesn’t get a solo spot. You have to assume he’s there to reinforce that’s it’s the complete, original line up, but his role is side dancer and side singer (or maybe just being there).
I knew 90% of the songs (which always helps). It was one hell of a show in terms of production, lights, video screen, dancing, extra dancers, singing. I was transported back to the scene at concerts by The Beatles in 1963 and 1964. What was there not to like? That’s what it’s about. The excitement of 20,000 people is tangible and infectious. I don’t think I’d want to hear a live CD of the show. You had to be there. I’d go again.