He’s standing on top of a flaming piano, doing a strip tease. And the crowd goes wild.
(Donnie on a flaming piano. Nice bod, Bud.)
Don’t call it a comeback, they’ve been here for years. Apparently I didn’t get the memo that although I’d long since abandoned them, The New Kids On The Block are cool again. Talk about Throwback Thursday!
The last time I’d listened to the New Kids, I had a mouthful of braces, very fluffy hair, and hadn’t yet begun to shave my legs. My younger sister heard they were coming to town with a few other favorites from our wonder years and invited me to their concert. I laughed it off at first, but relented when she pressed further, because the truth was, with 6 demanding kids and 2 equally demanding full time jobs between us, we don’t get much sisterly bonding time.
That was six months ago, so when the day finally crept up on us, I wondered why I had committed to this nonsense on a Friday night, after a long long week. I just wanted to spend a quiet night home with Gull and the kids. I love my sister, but she can be high maintenance and full of drama. She called me hours before the gates opened to ask if I was crimping my hair, or wearing bangles, or dressing for the 80s. No, no, and definitely no. I was dreading this night!! But I’m also never one to squander a ticket, so I dragged myself out.
We met in the parking lot and took an obligatory pre-concert selfie. We remarked that we’re looking more alike in our old age (to clarify we’re both in our 30s). We took our seats to the Motown Philly theme song- the first time a concert has ever started right on time! Boyz 2 Men got us into the concert spirit and brought back some particularly formative memories. Paula Abdul was pretty much a train wreck, but I suppose that was entertainment in and of itself.
Then the main event came on. The coliseum was more full than I expected, and the crowd looked pretty much as you’d think. A bunch of similarly aged, mostly white ladies- many of whom did crimp their hair, put on their best bangles, and dressed for the era we were commemorating. Some brought their daughters who were the age we all were when NKOTB first came on the scene, had no idea who they were seeing, but were happy to share something special with their moms.
The show began. And that is when my predisposition to patronage was pulled from beneath me. The music was unfamiliar, but catchy. Unlike poor Paula, they were not lip syncing, but harmonizing just like in the old days. They were moving and gyrating in synchrony with ease, and damn, they looked gooooood. It’s been almost 30 whopping years since they arrived on the block, and they weren’t the old geezers I expected.
It didn’t take me long to put my condescension aside, and let myself have fun. Gertie and I belted out the songs we knew and salivated through the ones we didn’t. These guys have orchestrated what might just be the best comeback ever, and have a fan base more loyal and devoted than any I’ve seen in ages. How did they do it?
- They don’t take themselves too seriously. They laughed at each other throughout the show. They admitted they weren’t very well liked by 1994. “Yeah, we’re in our late 40’s and we’re milking the 15 minutes of fame we had 3 decades ago for as much as we can.” And I have a feeling it’s not a small sum.
- They love and appreciate their fans. The New Kids (still weird calling these fathers of 20-somethings kids) spent ample time working the crowd, graciously shaking hands, hugging, taking hundreds of selfies in the middle of the show. They were groped and objectified, and I don’t think they minded one bit.
- They respect their past. They are not trying to be something new or different. They somehow stayed true to the original air of the group and the new music is a great bridge to what they built years ago. They put on their snazzy 80s jackets and they owned it.
- Finally, they know their audience- horny middle aged women, many of whom are with child- which is why the concert had an element that was 20% Chippendales/Thunder From Down Under/Burlesque.
What’s different in 2017 vs 1988? Well, maybe I’m talking through the eyes of pre-adolescent Bertie and Gertie, but back then Jordan Knight was the front man and Joey McIntyre was the tween heartthrob with the baby blue eyes and his undeveloped soprano. But in 2017, Donnie Wahlberg is the STAR of the show. He seemed to sing the most, move the most, and by far got the most outright swooning from his devoted female fans. Maybe it’s because his younger brother Marky Mark went from a Calvin Klein sporting rapper to a dignified actor, or maybe it’s his marriage to super sexy Jenny McCarthy, or his various acting roles himself, but Donnie seems to be the lead guy and get the biggest cheers. He’s funny, likeable (did you see he left a $2000 tip at a Waffle House today?) , and downright sexy. Kudos to you Donnie, for finding the hottie underneath the chubby cheeks and bad mullet.
The concert I didn’t want to go to turned out to be one of the best I’ve been to. I reconnected with my sister by substituting one kind of noise (children screaming, life suffocating) with a different kind (ladies shrieking, groupies singing). I am now a born again New Kids on The Block fan, and I’m not afraid to admit it.
(And I apologize for judging the seemingly crazy woman/mom/groupie from my town who has been professing her NKOTB obsession on social media for years). I get it- they still have the Right Stuff.