I wanted to gawk at the spectacle of aging Gen Xers gone crazy for forgotten idols. Or so I told myself. Secretly, part of me also wanted to see if the boy band singers elicited the same frenzied reaction they would have during my pre-teen years.
The New Kids on the Block. Five guys. The Heartthrob, The Bad Boy, The Cute One, The Older Brother, and The Shy One, all on stage together again for the Total Package Tour.
The last time I saw them on stage, I remember the screaming. Me screaming, others screaming…just…screaming. But then I was 12, and now I’m…not 12.
So I went. I walked up to the doors of the CenturyLink Center and saw a girl wearing a hot pink bubble skirt made out of material with the Fab Five’s faces emblazoned all over it. The last time I saw a hot pink bubble skirt was about 1990…and I’d wager this woman wore flats with it that year, not five-inch heels.
The memorabilia was everywhere…some faded almost beyond sight, some probably a size too small on the torsos of fans.
Arriving to my seat, I started to pull out my notebook for the night, but noticed a gentleman trying to both help his wife to her seat and get to his seat while holding their snacks. So I held the couple’s snacks for them while they walked over the row they needed to descend. They were specifically there to see Boyz II Men.
Yes, Boyz II Men. The concert featured not only one boy band; there were two boys bands—thus the Total Package. Actually, that package was supposed to have included Paula Abdul, but she was unable to perform in Omaha.
The upside of her unfortunate absence was that a talented group of men gave local concertgoers an outstanding extra few minutes of their time. The Boyz arrived onstage wearing white pants, varying black or white tops, and black patent-leather hightop sneakers. Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, and Shawn Stockman epitomized the early ’90s look that was showing itself throughout the aisles.
And there was the sound. Not just the incredibly smooth harmonies of three boys (now certainly men) doo-woping, but the other sound. At the end of the first full verse, Wayna said, “Now scream!” He need not have said it, for the cacophony of high-pitched women’s voices had already begun.
The men gave the audience a well-done edition of “Motownphilly,” then moved into their true talent with a soulful, pitch-perfect rendition of 1992’s “On Bended Knee.”
“THAT was the best harmony I’ve ever heard at a concert,” said my new friend in the row below, Dr. Greg Davis of Omaha.
They mixed in some modern songs. Lenny Kravitz’ “Are You Gonna Go My Way” and Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven” were unexpected, but fun.
They knew how to tease, how to let women think they were singing just to them. And in one case, it happened. During “End of the Road,” Nathan laid on the ground and caressed a woman’s face through one of the last verses.
But, of course, after this, we had come to the end of the road, at least for their performance for the night. Down on the floor, a sea of hot pink began moving anxiously.
Suddenly, I heard thunder. Actually, I thought I heard thunder. What I heard was a rolling wave of screaming that became one sound. A mushroom cloud of sound rose from the mass of teenage and prepubescent passion resurrected inside of the CentryLink Center.
A large screen of NKOTB faces transitioned into the kids’ magical appearance onscreen, in a cloud of smoke, telling you to give them “One More Night.” Out came puppy-dog eyes and a slight pout from blue-eyed cutie Joe McIntyre. Out came the slightly arrogant confidence of heartthrob Jordan Knight. And bad boy Donnie Wahlberg? Well, his complement to the all-black ensembles was a black motorcycle-looking leather jacket and ball cap.
Clearly, these three ran the show, but the five worked as a synchronous group. During the third song, the jackets came off. Hints of abs were revealed, and the already deafening noise rose.
Just as the fans (one of whom stood quietly peering over the edge of fandom) are no longer 12, the group members are no longer 16. Fourty-four-year-old McIntyre’s adorable pre-adult voice is long gone, those high-pitched notes taken over by Knight’s falsetto, or the song has simply moved down an octave.
Wahlberg emceed the production, which included multiple confetti guns, pyrotechnics, and an impressive pass over the top of the crowd (carried by bodyguards).
After moving to a second stage, they donned black and white letterman-style jackets used in their 2008 single, “Summertime.” Following a medley of “Dirty Dawg” and “No More Games” from their 1994 release Face the Music, shy one Danny Wood showcased a bit of his breakdancing skills. Although he didn’t quite complete his final spin, he rose to applause and screams.
On their return trip to the main stage, I saw it. The face. The face of rapture and agony. The face of a fan whose hand McIntyre touched. That, “I won’t wash my hand again!” look.
NKOTB fans know that Wahlberg typically brings a young girl, no more than age 10, onstage for “Cover Girl.” That hasn’t changed, and the affable bad boy’s sweet interaction with the youngster melted hearts.
Yet, a lot has changed, even if the number of clothing changes has not. In the half-dozen outfits the guys wore, one involved a complete “Quick Change Cam,” in which the ladies were treated to visions of the guys’ upper bodies as they switched shirts. Wood held up, then put on, a Big Red shirt to the delight of many in the audience. (The guys also seemed to grab more at particular body parts than they would have 20 years ago.)
The classic hits drew the most screams. Audience members sang along as the group wound their way, cleverly, through the 1990s before disappearing and showing a montage of selfies texted during the show.
They came back dressed in all white for their new single “Thankful.” Their 1990 hit “Step by Step” featured Knight relishing the song that brought him to the forefront of the group. He finished his stint in that night’s limelight on a raised platform gesturing for applause.
At one point in the concert, Wahlberg said, “Some of you left us for grunge and then came back.” I can relate, although I discovered my own version of Nirvana through jam bands. My return to the boy band concert was more for the sake of nostalgia.
Although we’ve all put on a few decades (and my vote for the night’s best vocals would go to Boyz II Men), NKOTB once again proved they still have the “Right Stuff” as described in the lyrics of their 1988 single “You Got It [The Right Stuff].”