STEP ONE: WE CAN HAVE LOTS OF FUN
Backstreet’s back, alright. So are the New Kids – so, in fact, are seemingly every group that graced the charts during the ‘80s, ‘90s or around the turn of the millennium (not to be confused with Millennium). The flood of pop acts that have splashed upon our nostalgic shores just over the past year has been relentless, and often these tours seem like a shot in the dark (see: Wheatus, C+C Music Factory, S Club seven-minus-four). This tour certainly doesn’t fall under that banner. With millions of records sold between the two groups in our country alone, it makes perfect sense for New Kids On The Block and Backstreet Boys to tour Australia together, sell out arenas, and party like it’s 1989/1999.
STEP TWO: THERE’S SO MUCH WE CAN DO
There seemed to be a shared suspension of age-appropriate dress, dance-moves and audience response at this show. Everyone in the heaving AllPhones Arena seemed content to exist in a time-warp during this double-billed, two-hour show. The two acts blew kisses, unleashed choreographed dance moves, Donny “Hangin’ Tough” Wahlberg tore off his shirt, and the whole show was a sight to behold; on stage were two of the most successful boy bands–and indeed recording artists–in history, and rather than attempting to segue gracefully into middle age, they seem to be aiming at the same 12-17 market they always did, and the 25-39 audience responded in kind. They were, after all, once this demographic – and nobody seemed to mind falling back into those bad old ways for one evening. Posters may rip and get that blu-tacky goop stuck to them, but teenage love lasts forever (or something).
STEP THREE: IT’S JUST YOU AND ME
So, the concert itself: it’s been twenty years since New Kids On The Block were in Australia, and while the Backstreet Boys claim the street-cred in their name, it was actually NKOTB who were very literally plucked from the rough streets of Boston by producer Maurice Starr, who wrote their songs, produced and played on their records, and basically gave the New Kids that effortless cool black musicians possess in spades. Therefore their dance-moves stem from this collar-popping street culture, their upbeat songs have a gritty edge and even their syrupy ballads seem… somewhat less syrupy. Jordan Knight still possesses a remarkably strong falsetto, they have all aged gracefully (Joey McIntyre–the baby of the band at 39–brought his four-year-old son onstage to sing/cry and it was undeniably adorable) and Donny Wahlberg is perhaps the only visitor to Australia to have successfully wrapped himself in our flag without it seeming like a patronising gesture. They played all their hits: Hangin Toughwas anchored by the Back In Black riff; Tonight still oddly sounds like a Magical Mystery Tour offcut; I’ll Be Loving You Forever and Please Don’t Go Girl are pitched impossibly high, making for both the most impressive vocals of the night (from Joey McIntyre and Jordan Knight) and the worst (from the straining, squealing audience); Step By Step showed they can still unleash perfect five-part harmonies and Jackson 5 dance moves when need be; and Cover Girl… well, it rules. Special mention must be made of the part where Donny W tore his T-shirt off Hulk-style, strutted to the front of the stage and BAM! confetti canon.
STEP FOUR: I CAN GIVE YOU MORE
Backstreet Boys on the other hand, still firmly ascribe to the TV Hits brand of boybanding. The frenetic dance-moves remain as you remember (it’s remarkable how well the All The Small Things video really nailed it) and at one point they each selected a girl from the audience to bring on stage and serenade. (Hilariously, Miss Australia 2008 Laura Dundovic was among the girls selected, a fact she [also hilariously] managed to disclosure within the first thirty seconds.) But, you know, all the outmoded boy band shenanigans worked a treat; when the four of them (Kevin [the goatee one] didn’t come for the trip) walked through the audience, the security guards very-rightly swamped to protect the boys from the pandemonium. And it was, actual, vintage 1999 pandemonium. “I think you can do better than that Sydney” yelled AJ (the tough one) when the ear-piercing screams weren’t enough, and the audio levels hit ridiculous, dangerous levels. “There’s a lot of beautiful women in the crowd,” stated Kevin (the blonde, non-Nick Carter one) and the place erupted as if the compliment had been directed at each and every female in the arena. Plus, they played all the hits. Nick Carter has aged well, too.
STEP FIVE: DON’T YOU KNOW THAT THE TIME IS RIGHT?
Most impressive of all, though, was how much the two bands meant it. While their respective peaks occurred roughly a decade apart, all nine members seemed interchangeable, especially during the final boy band battle, where all concerned donned ‘Australia’ jackets (BSB in blue, NKOTB in yellow) and spat lines of Hangin’ Tough and Backstreet’s Back at each other playfully. The final scene of 8 Mile it wasn’t, however it was fun, and unhinged, and it was by far the most squeal-inducing moment in an evening full of them. Nostalgia rarely holds up this well, and as endless fifty-somethings keep crunching distortion pedals while straining to ‘rock out’ in inverse proportion to their age, this all seems quite vital and youthful by comparison. There was nobody dragging their bones around the stage, age has not drained either group of any ability, and the night ended with a flood of confetti and a group cuddle – as all good nights out should.