Only the actively apolitical could ineptly capitalize something like the Boston Marathon bombing to rile a crowd, equating that tragic loss to the events of September 11. That's exactly how New Kids On The Block closed their Saturday night spectacle, donning custom Red Sox baseball T's—their fifth wardrobe change of the night—and belting their 1988 hit "Hangin' Tough" as a misdirected metaphor for living in a major U.S. city through terror. Not that the Massachusetts quintet has ever made a secret of their weak social agency.
Formed by Maurice Starr as a "white" alternative to R&B boy-band progenitors New Edition, NKOTB's diluted b-boy routine was so transparent in those early years they consistently battled for radio play, eventually vogueing along to popular dance beats—on their new album 10 giving dubstep a move or two—while vying for the hearts of tween girls the world over. Through years of Hi-NRG homophobic slurs, the openly gay Jonathan Knight did little to foment righteousness in the same way as Carl Bean or even Lady Gaga, who both ripped off Bean's '77 "I Was Born This Way" and opened for NKOTB in 2008. This music has consistently reflected not even apathy—it's actively avoided any stance. "Hangin' Tough" is not about community resilience but tacitly dropping into a dance-floor trance, lest Knight, his brother Jordan, Donnie Wahlberg, Joey McIntyre, and Danny Wood simply beat you into a club-drug daze. This shit is exhausting.I was naïve to think this show, held at the Nassau Coliseum on June 1st, wouldn't start exactly at 7:30 p.m., and I walked in at 8:03 to a fever-pitch stadium sing-along of the openers Boyz II Men masterpiece of slowfucking, "I'll Make Love To You." This was not a fashionably late Bushwick punk show. For a tour of this scale, these groups probably have their poops timed to the flush. Because NKOTB, touring with the Boyz-now-men and 98 Degrees, are lubed-up heart-breaking machines, rehearsed down to the "is it hot in here?" banter and the placement of stagehands catching banished suit jackets—no boy band will bow to the tyranny of fabric. Even so, as metronomic each second of these performances are, none of these hydra-headed engines of vulnerability operate with enough power in 2013 to have filled the 18,000-odd seats in the Coliseum on their own bill. It's like when the Power Rangers zords couldn't defeat the baddies individually so morphed into a giant robot made of robots. This is the Megazord of boy band shows. It was announced on The Today Show, which is a morning news program that people old enough to have been fans of this music—or the Power Rangers—apparently watch.
It's called The Package Tour, a saccharine sexual reference typical to the genre, suggestive enough to fans while stale enough to be arguably "clean." But all it makes me think about is Justin Timberlake's "Dick In A Box," a song about a package that actually has a package in it (and a contemporary comedic classic). Timberlake has found the most success of anyone from the Boy Band Wave, figuring out how to navigate the entertainment industry and deflecting or satirizing his past in a way that kept him respectable, desirable, and in the public eye. No other boy band member has remained as relevant. Granted, that's assuming any of these performers wanted to stay in the biz. But, for example, 98 Degrees member Drew Lachey could have gone back to saving lives as an EMT in New York City following the dissolution of his group. Instead, he won season two of Dancing With The Stars.This music is consistently fatalist, the songs burning with all-or-nothing sentiment: don't ever go, I can't live without you, you're the reason for my being, I'll love you forever, just one more night together could save the world. We heard roughly the same song 30 times Saturday night, including McIntyre's still stunning delivery of "Please Don't Go Girl." And every single woman singing along at least theoretically used to want to believe these cuts were directed specifically to her. I say this not to conflagrate my understanding of women's sensibilities. I say this because that's what the girls I was trying to make out with in middle school in the late '90s told me. Hillary loved N'Sync. Kara loved 98 Degrees. Mary loved the Backstreet Boys. Charity loved O-Town. No one liked LFO. "I love you Joey!" the woman behind me screamed, in section 315, Row P, approximately 150 yards away from Joey. It was a gesture totally devoid of irony, brimming with all the hope of 12-year-old me thinking that singing along to "All Because of You" and playing Truth or Dare would lead anywhere. It never does.
"If you watched TRL back in the day you might know this one," 98 Degrees de-facto fronthunk Nick Lachey said, introducing that track. And he was right: I still knew every word, reminding me that I used to skip class to feverishly redial the program, where Lachey and Co. abutted Limp Bizkit and Busta Rhymes. But even I could see at the time that all the girls standing in Times Square would scream the most for these proto-Guidos—coiffed, tanned, manscaped, dressed in European-cut button-downs and polished loafers. Years later, I would have an employee discount at Express and dress like a polished turd. There's a strong argument that the crest of the boy band wave is directly responsible for the metrosexual anti-revolution.NKOTB followed "Please Don't Go Girl" with their ridiculous current single, "Remix (I Like The)." Just to make clear, this is not a remix. This is a serious She's All That jammer about a babe who becomes vengeful once she takes off her glasses: "Now her body's so crazy/ Got mad attention/ Everybody wants her/ I forgot to mention/ My baby's so intelligent," Joey sings. Haha, whoops! Slipped my mind she has a mind. Anyway, only about a third of the crowd (a third of the crowd being about 6,000 people) sang along to that one. The loudest unison of the night came when the Kids let Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" play front-to-back over the loudspeakers, goading Every Single Human to sing along to the chorus. This was next to a few actual covers. The honestly moving "The Whisper" morphed into "Shout," Nelly's "Hot in Here" became "Dirty Dancing." Jordan tried his hand at Prince's "Kiss." Joey did George Michael's "Faith" and also Rihanna's "We Found Love," which sounded hollow and unenthused, sort of like when Rhianna sings it. The fact the NKOTB had to finally resort to a 2011 megahit in the trough of the show to keep the crowd at all engaged is pretty telling of their catalog. Nostalgia might wane, but sentimentality is easily defibrillated (which is a metaphor Boyz II Men singer Wanya Morris used to describe his chart-toppers).I couldn't decide if I wanted a $50 Boyz II Men T-shirt or a $105 NKOTB heather-blue hoodie so instead I drank two Bud heavies at $9.75 each. By the end of the show, I had to piss pretty badly. I moved into the sea of women choking the concourse, a large number of whom were queued for the restroom. By the time I elbowed my way to the men's room, comfortably occupied by I think every single male in attendance, some ladies had gotten wise. A grip of females stood near the unpopulated urinals, waiting for empty stalls. "Help yourself," one woman, head-to-toe in cheetah print, said to me. So, I dropped fly and took my relief, as the socially understood limits of our genders dissolved like the urinal cake I aimed for.Literally nothing mattered anymore.Dale Eisinger actually prefers Marky Mark to NKOTB. He's on Twitter - @daleweisinger