Over the weekend I attended a concert that was about twenty-five years in the making for me. When I saw that Boyz II Men, Paula Abdul, and New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) were all touring together this summer, my 12 year old self got crazy excited. I loved Boyz II Men and NKOTB growing up. They were the soundtrack to my formative years. I was not, however, allowed to go see them in concert when I was a kid. My parents decided that the shows would be too “mature” and that I couldn’t go. I think part of it also boiled down to cash at hand and their general disdain for the music itself, but that’s speculation. What I do know is that as an adult I was excited to be able to finally fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing New Kids of the Block live.
Unfortunately, the show itself was not local for me. It wasn’t even local to my mother’s house so the show was going to be a massive drive to attend. Armed with my friend Teresa, we set off on Saturday afternoon for Tampa which is about a two hour drive from where we were located. We parked and ate across the street from the Arena at a sports bar and grill called Champions. It was decent enough food. Nothing too spectacular but it was directly across the street so we opted for convenience over quality.
The line to get in the building was insane. Thousands of people cramming themselves into a few lines for metal detectors. It was already hot since it’s Florida in July. The temperature had to have been over 100 degrees once we got up the stairs and into the actual lines. As we were waiting, a drunken woman passed out and threw up and paramedics were called. We could have used one of those little cell phone fans. Once we finally got inside we started towards our seats which were on the other side of the arena. We ended up missing the first song from Boyz II Men but were able to see the majority of their set. The guys sounded exactly the same as they always had which was wonderful. The only song they didn’t since was Motown Philly which was a shame, but it was a short set with a small band. I didn’t expect them to go full production.
Paula Abdul came on shortly after. Here’s where things got weird. There was a guy behind us who kept screaming “I love you Paula” which was entertaining the first few times. Paula came on stage with her dancers and starting singing. With no band but a music track behind her. The cameras that were projecting her image on the big side screens revealed that she wasn’t singing. At all. Her lip syncing was only slightly off at the beginning. By the time we reached the end of the performance it was all I could see. She played only her hit singles, Cold Hearted Snake, Opposites Attract, Rush, etc. Even Rush, in which there wasn’t much dancing she lip synced. In between songs and multiple costume changes she was a motivational speaker. Telling us all to persevere, to never give up, and to follow our dreams. It was odd.
Then came the main act. New Kids on the Block. NKOTB. The boys (men) were back and ready to rock. I admit that I was a little nervous going in. I had looked up a recent performance online and the singing did not hold up. I wasn’t sure what to expect. This is also when the screaming began…and never quit. Seriously, the speakers playing music were louder than most concerts which was good since it needed to block out the sound of the madness occurring. The guys came out singing and danced around the stage. There wasn’t a ton of the old school choreography that boy bands are known for. There was a little, but overall, the five of them spent a lot of time wandering to their random places on stage and interacted with the audience individually.
They played all their hits and some songs I had never heard. When it came to the singing, I could barely hear Danny when it was his turn at a solo lyric, Jon was good but nervous, Donnie was just…bad. The other two, Jordan and Joe were the two that shone and were placed front and center the most other than Donnie who I had to start ignoring at some point. Jordan was pitchy. There’s no way around it. It’s like he and his voice grew up but he was pushing against the high notes he used to sing. Don’t get me wrong. He can still hit those high notes, but I really think that if he rearranged it into a key one step below where he was at, it would have been better. Then, something happened that had me creeped out and then cackling with laughter. Jordan started singing a song (I couldn’t tell you which one) and began a strip tease in the center of the stage. The guys are proud of their abs, as well they should be, but it was weird. He ends up in his tank top and pants and pulling his tank top up over his pecs. Side note: think of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs here. He left the shirt above his pecs and continued to dance. It was just weird. And Creepy. Then, I look at the giant screen in the back and suddenly there’s an eggplant emoji floating across the screen. And a pickle. Then a banana. Then a volcano. By that point it was so ridiculous that I couldn’t stop laughing. I looked back to the stage and Jordan was humping it. I still have no idea how it got to that point.
On to less weird and creepy things! Joe sang a version of Please Don’t Go Girl that nearly had me in tears. The man can sing. He’s the only one up there with any sustainable vocal talent. Get him a gig on Broadway. Make him a Disney Prince! Give him all the singing jobs. He’s fantastic. I’d sit through an entire show of anything to hear him sing more. It honestly was the highlight of the show for me.
Other weirdness? The set a piano on fire on purpose, just the edges. Odd because not even Billy Joel did that and literally has a song about starting a “fire”. Then there was a “Quick Change Cam” in which the audience was treated to them changing their clothes in between songs. The guys hammed it up for the camera, flexing and whatnot. There was a surprise “hello” on the cam and Joey Fatone was there.
I felt like I was the only one there for the actual music because between the strip tease and the dressing room cameras, I appeared to be the only one not amused or screaming my head off.
Overall it was a mixed bag for me. The guys are true showmen, after nearly 30 years together they know how to get the audience going and they know how to play to each other's strengths. The nostalgia was strong but there were several elements that made me uncomfortable. One of the best things they did though was the fan interaction. They brought folks on stage. They walked through the crowd. They spent 15 minutes after the final bow wandering around the stage and taking selfies with fans and giving out hugs. I did wake up the next morning wondering if I had actually damaged my hearing this time. So much screaming. It was so loud. Luckily the ringing in my ears finally subsided and the terror I felt at the hollow sounds in my ears turned out to be my allergies acting up. If you’re a fan? Just go see them. It’ll be an interesting experience if nothing else. I enjoyed my trip down memory lane. And just like my memories, things were fun, but a little weird.