New Kids on the Block, or NKOTB as they are affectionately known by their fans, deliver on the nostalgia and embrace what and who made them successful, their original fans: moms.
The lights went down at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, and the din of excited chatter quickly turned into a loud wall of noise as 16000 women began screaming in anticipation. The lights came back up on an empty stage, but the screams didn’t stop. A man dressed all in black rushed onto the stage and began warming up the crowd by the obligatory “How are you all feeling, Iowa?” He performed his schtick, claiming the DJ had called in sick, so they had to find someone else to come perform. The screaming continued, almost drowning out what he was saying. Soon, a person dressed as a bear in a white track suit and carrying a blow-up bat was on stage, waving his arms around. He, we were told, was Sluggaz. Sluggaz took his place in front of the turntables and a slew of 80’s hits filled the venue.
Everyone was on their feet, fueled by nostalgia and alcohol, dancing along. Everyone, but me. I sat precariously in my seat in row K in the upper balcony, working hard to stave off a panic attack. Several weeks before, Ticketmaster had a promotion, offering tickets for specific concerts for $20.00. I hadn’t originally intended on attending the New Kids on The Block Mixtape Tour, as I had seen NKOTB twice already, but I couldn’t resist a deal, just ask my drawer full of clearance too small clothing with the tags still on. (Someday I will fit into it, I swear.) I assumed the tickets would be in the highest or furthest seats in the venue, but I’ve sat in the upper balcony for all 3 of Justin Timberlake’s concerts, and was even at the very top of the Mark of the Quad Cities for a hockey game. As I climbed multiple staircases to get to my seat, I turned to see just how far up I was, and immediately became dizzy. My fear of heights overwhelmed my senses and I frantically made my way to my $20.00 seat. After some measured breathing, and a frantic text to my husband, I had calmed myself. I discovered I was fine, if I was sitting. As soon as I stood up, my head felt weightless and detached from my very heavy and unstable body. So, I sat. For the whole show.
If you have never been to a NKOTB concert, let me provide some context. When New Kids first became popular in the late 1980’s, I was not a fan. I tolerated them. They came to Iowa with Tiffany, and I was pretty sure that I was the only girl in my 8th grade class that didn’t want to go. To fit in, I pretended that I liked them, and even picked out a favorite. Jordan, by the way. But I never purchased a cassette, or a button, or a poster. I rode out their fame by nodding along to their music and telling my one rather graphic New Kids joke. (It had to do with the front row of a concert and body hair, if you must know) I’m not sure what my detachment stemmed from. Their music was fine, catchy even. They were all rather pleasant to look at. Perhaps the cynic in me couldn’t get over the hype; like those people who revel in telling you that they DON’T watch Game of Thrones. We get it. You’re edgy. Eventually, their fame fizzled, and the band broke up. Donnie Wahlberg became an actor, Jordan and Joey each released their own solo albums. Jonathan always seemed to be reluctant about fame, and no one really cares about Danny.
In 2008, they reunited, released a new album, and went on tour. Their target audience was now well into their thirties and forties, the time of life where most are generally married, have children, and disposable income. They are also desperate for nights out, but no longer want to hit the bar scene. The Moms Blog also offers options for that!
The band’s timing was inspired. Their concert tour sold out. They started hosting annual Caribbean cruises, where the band stayed on the ship with their fans, mingled, and performed. Those sold out as well. They deliver on the nostalgia and embrace what and who made them successful. They have a catalog of new songs, but the majority of the music that they play at their concerts are from their 80’s and 90’s albums. They tour with artists who were also popular during that time. And they provide a good time.
During their 2009 tour, they came to the Mark. I don’t care what it is disguising itself as currently, it is The Mark. A friend, who was a fan, invited me to attend with her. I agreed, because I love live music, and associated the band with my childhood; you know, that time before I had all these responsibilities. The Mark was filled with women wearing matching shirts, calling back to the group or the decades that made them famous. The bars were stocked with frozen cocktails and wine. They had a dance troupe open for them, but their set wasn’t long, so NKOTB’s performance took the majority of the evening. With the exception of Joey, their voices haven’t aged particularly well. Their bodies have however, contributing to much of their performance being spent topless. Women’s thirsty screams echoed throughout the venue whenever a set of abs appeared. (Is it referred to as a set of abs? I don’t know, as I have a pony keg above the belt.) Although their choreography wasn’t impressive, their energy was. They not only moved around the stage, they moved around the venue, often singing from the crowd before stopping for selfies.
That is what NKOTB excels at. They genuinely seem appreciative of their fans. And they appear to be having a good time while they are performing, both with each other and the audience. I have attended a lot of concerts since I turned 13, and NKOTB is the most fun. (Justin, you are still by far, my favorite, don’t worry) I’m never blown away by their pyrotechnics or back up dancers, which are minimal or non-existent. I’m blown away by the joy that fills whatever venue they perform at. It seems like less of a performance, and more of a celebration between the band and the audience; women celebrating their friendships, their pasts, and their music.
Even as I sat in the upper balcony, fighting off a panic attack alone, my friend detained by a work obligation, I had a good time. The exuberance of the crowd was infectious, and I sang and danced in my chair. I spent that concert in Des Moines alone, but never felt that way.