Sound: New Kids On The Block and the Backstreet Boys both prove that while they are getting older, they haven't gotten old.
"Don't worry about bringing your earplugs; this isn't going to be like one of your crazy headbanger concerts". That's what my sister told me as we got out of the car outside of the Toyota Center that Saturday night. She was right in a way, attending the NKOTBSB concert was nothing like the metal and punk shows I usually attend (they call it the "Once In A Lifetime Tour" for a reason). But by the end of the night, we both regretted listening to her. Because like the metal shows I'm so used to, this was loud. NKOTBSB, aside from being a seemingly random sequence of jumbled up letters, is the joint performance tour of New Kids On The Block and the Backstreet Boys. It's like a supergroup of sorts. Who knew that any of these guys were still around? I didn't. I thought they all broke up and faded away, or something of that sort. You hardly hear about the Backstreet Boys anymore. And with almost everyone in New Kids being over 40, I thought that a more appropriate name for them would have been Old Men On The Block.
So yes, I was a little bit skeptical going into this show. Not only am I not really a fan of "boy band" music, I couldn't imagine that these guys (especially some of the older ones) could even sing anymore. I mean, how do you hit the same notes at 40 that you were hitting in your 20s? In a style of music where your voice is all you have going for you, age can ruin your career. Sure, Dave Mustaine, Ozzy Osbourne, and James Hetfield are mellowing with age, but the music saves the show more often than not. The crowd doesn't care when they're in circle pits. But us? We were sitting. In chairs. That was a first for me. I took my seat and looked around. I had never seen so many women in one place.
Any doubts I had about either group's singing abilities were promptly squashed when the guys took the stage. After an extended introduction that used an excerpt from an Explosions In The Sky track (a pleasant surprise), the five New Kids members appeared onstage and broke out into song, Barber Shop Quintet style. They played a medley of a few songs, culminating in a very emotional acapella performance from Joey McIntyre. And who says pop singers don't have soul? The Backstreet Boys then came out, and the rest of the night was filled with both bands co-headlining, either taking turns performing songs or singing songs together. For having been around so long, most of the guys have really kept their voices in top shape. I was impressed. And I don't suspect that auto-tuning was involved at all. The advent of auto-tune in the music industry came much after New Kids and the Backstreet Boys had established their success, and they don't seem like the type to mess with a formula that already works. Besides, you could tell that it wasn't auto-tuned. None of that lip-synch stuff either. Their performances were great, but they weren't completely flawless. You could tell when all that jumping and running was getting to them. Despite the Toyota Center being notorious for its problems with having too much echo, the acoustics were nice enough to the backing band that night, and everything from the bass to each individual cymbal on the drum kit came out just as clear as the vocals. The notorious echo was there, though, so while the sound was balanced, it wasn't as good as it could have been. // 8
Perfomance: Having nine members on the stage at once really allowed NKOTBSB to utilize all of the stage space they were given with their expertly choreographed routines. The stage had a large runway that extended into the crowd that the singers frequently ran up and down and occasionally lined up on. There were large elevating platforms on either end of the runway which both bands would rise up on, sometimes simultaneously. At one point near the end of the show, both groups came out wearing NBA jerseys corresponding to their hometowns and proceeded to have a bit of a dance-off. It really was fun to see both groups on stage at the same time, pretending to compete with each other. Things like that really made me enjoy the show much more than I thought I would.
The performance was great, from both groups. Despite the facts that these guys are in their 30s and 40s now, you wouldn't be able to tell based on how quick their moves were. I guess 30 really is the new 20. AJ McLean has really stayed in shape. The crowd was eating him up. I had always thought that Nick Carter was the alpha male of the Backstreet Boys, but I guess things change. Before that night I wasn't really familiar with New Kids On The Block (they were before my time), but I can't deny the fact that they put on an equally stunning performance that I enjoyed just as much as BSB's. During one of their songs, they got off the stage and started walking through the crowd, still singing. It was nice to see that they actually went past the front row floor seats and approached the bleachers where the rest of the fans were seated. One of the members was actually late getting back to the stage for the rest of the song because he took so long shaking hands with and hugging so many fans.
When you think of pop stars, you don't think of them like that. People think of them as rushing past the cameras so they can get in their limos and Drive off, so to see such a high level of crowd interaction changed the way I thought about these kinds of things. Speaking of crowd interaction, the Backstreet Boys picked out four girls from the crowd and made them part of the act, serenading them individually to the song "I'll Never Break Your Heart". One of the girls was so happy she started crying, and continued to do so throughout the entire song. It was at that moment that I thought, "who turned back time to 1999?" But the best part was when one of the women on stage actually pulled a camera out and snapped a photo point blank range. The crowd applauded her. I did too.
Joining NKOTBSB on tour was their backing band, which included guitarist Michael "Fish" Herring. I hadn't heard of him before that night, but this man has his chops. He more than proved his credibility as a great player when he took to the elevating platform alongside the Backstreet Boys at the end of Larger Than Life to shred the crowd into a frenzy. He also looks like Rob Halford. He had quite a few fine guitars, most notably a Gibson Goldtop Doublecut Les Paul and what looked to be a Gretsch White Falcon. Of the four guys in the backing band, Fish was the most involved in the show, occasionally coming out of the dark and joining the band in their antics. // 9
Overall Impression: It was Saturday, June 25th at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas that I saw New Kids On The Block and the Backstreet Boys perform together. It was also that night that I felt like my age could be counted in single digits again. I'll admit it; I really did like Backstreet Boys when I was a kid. I can thank (blame) my older sister for that. Jokes aside, it really was a blast from the past to see them perform. Regardless of how much I may or may not have enjoyed the music, it was a spectacular show. It may not be my favorite concert that I've been to, but it was definitely one of the most interesting. I felt completely out of place there with my scruffy beard and heavy metal tee. Oh, and the fact that I'm a dude. But between the upbeat music, the pyrotechnics, and the crazy dance moves, it would be hard to not have a good time. And even though an overwhelming majority of the NKOTBSB fanbase is female (something the girl I sat next to discussed with me), the guys on stage had a few treats for the fellas in the crowd (which I'm assuming amounted to about ten of us among the thousands upon thousands of women). When they covered Queen's "We Will Rock You", the two guys within seeing eye distance actually started to move to the music. And I couldn't help but smile when Backstreet Boys started singing "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)". The backing band had worked in AC/DC's "Back In Black".
I never thought that watching a pop show could have been so interesting. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that New Kids On The Block and Backstreet Boys were co-headlining, with their sets weaving around each others'. It let the guys rest after every few songs, which kept the performance running at top speed the entire night. These guys are dedicated to what they do. As a community of guitarists, I don't think that we give pop stars as much credit as they're due. A few of us tend to think that since they're not playing instruments they must not have any talent. But it takes a lot of talent and practice to be able to sing like that. And to dance like that. But to do both at the same time? You're looking at years of dedication and hard work. And it really pays off in the end, because it makes for a fantastic performance. The guys on stage that night put every ounce of their being into that performance, because they love what they do. And regardless of how they're doing it, I respect that. New Kids On The Block and the Backstreet Boys both proved that night that while they are getting older, they haven't gotten old. // 9