At Rogers Arena on Saturday, July 9
If you could measure a band’s popularity based solely on the number of homemade T-shirts at their concerts, both the New Kids on the Block and their slightly younger counterparts, the Backstreet Boys, have still got it going on. A good portion of the multigenerational crowd—on the first of two nights that the '80s and '90s boy bands were coheadlining—was decked out in tees covered in jiffy scrawls and neon glitter professing their love for any of the nine guys teaming up for the package tour.
For the record, there were more tributes to the New Kids’ Jordan Knight than, say, BSB’s Howie Dorough. Those who hadn’t gone the DIY route opted to pick up a shirt or bejazzled hoodie with a more democratic group shot and the clunky NKOTBSB tag emblazoned on it.
Glee actor Matthew Morrison got his fair share of love from the audience, too, with many an “I Love You Matt” sign cluttering the floor during his brief opening set. The performance kicked off with a pretaped skit in which TV costar Jane Lynch exclaimed, “Enjoy the show, losers.” Most people took her to heart.
Shrieks filled the arena as Morrison hopped around and popped his pelvis during a mashup of the Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” and Gary Puckett’s “Young Girl”, and strummed a ukulele to his pro-PDA pop anthem “Summer Rain”. A baffling PG rendition of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” and his poor-me ballad “My Name”—which explains how tough it is to have fans call him Mr. Schuester in public—nearly derailed his performance, but the multimedia star still had them wanting more by the end of the set.
The screams of women young and old grew to a fever pitch once a massive white curtain fell to reveal the hybrid headliners mounted on an elevated platform. Though the nine singers shuffled in unison for the opening medley of “Single” and “The One”, which also included a touch of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida", for the most part, each band took its turn wowing the crowd. The New Kids opted to get their newer material out of the way, with Knight flexing his falsetto skills early on during 2008’s reunion single “Summertime”. The biggest cheers, naturally, came for pop-radio classics like “You’ve Got It (The Right Stuff)”, which found the outfit running through their old dance routines as they strutted up and down the catwalk.
Considering how bubble-gum both bands are in the grand scheme of music history, this is going to sound hilarious: despite the New Kids’ Donnie Wahlberg’s glittered-up Public Enemy T-shirts and b-boy posturing, the Backstreet Boys are, hands down, the tough guys on the tour. Heavily tattooed ladies’ choice A.J. McLean got especially aggro as he crumpled to the ground and started shouting gruffly into the mike during “Larger Than Life”. For his part, Nick Carter looked a little unhinged as he writhed and air-humped on the catwalk.
The quartet’s vibe significantly sweetened up, though, once they pulled out four ladies from the crowd, gave each a flower, and serenaded them with the ooey-gooey “I’ll Never Break Your Heart”. Whether it was the sexpot brought on stage by McLean, or the little girl Southern gentleman Brian Littrell crooned to, each seemed stunned to be so close to the former teen idols.
Following a lengthy string of ballads presented by both bands, the New Kids kicked things up a notch with their 1990 hit "Step By Step". The outfit opted to let the audience sing the midsection while Knight did the running man. Next up was Wahlberg showcase “Cover Girl”. In it, the performer riled up the crowd with a number of Vancity shout-outs before running across the stage and tearing his black tank top to shreds like Hulk Hogan, proving that Marky Mark’s not the only Wahlberg still working an ab program. Clearly the skin-showing had the female pheromones flowing throughout Rogers Arena, as the singer quickly, and oddly, professed, “Mostly, all I smell is beautiful women.” He admitted that men must have been there too, though, as he caught a big whiff of beer and poutine from somewhere in the crowd.
The tag-team routine kept up a little longer, with the New Kids dishing out the new jack-swing-flavoured “Games”, Knight’s surprisingly touching “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)”, and even the national anthem, while Backstreet kept things going with a '80s-style soft rock rendition of “Shape Of My Heart” and a medley of Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” and their “Quit Playing Games With My Heart”.
Following well over two dozen numbers, the bands took it easy for an extended back-patting session that had bad boys Wahlberg and McLean toasting each other’s nastiness and Littrell and youngest New Kid Joey McIntyre discussing their bromance. Sensing the boredom at the awkward bonding session, Dorough thanked the fans for their patience before NKOTB’s Danny Wood announced regular set closer “Don’t Turn Out The Lights”.
The encore brought both bands out for a couple of their biggest hits, with Backstreet tackling the spooky club stomper “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” and the New Kids pumping out the still funky “Hangin’ Tough”. Finally fulfilling the true potential of having every member on stage, the two troupes slowly paced toward each other while poppin’ and lockin’ like rival gangs as the two songs and a snippet of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” merged into one. Backstreet’s Carter flubbed a line as he cracked up into the mike over the ridiculousness of the mashup—and maybe the show as a whole—but just as the mentoring New Kids had set up with step one of “Step By Step”, he with his bandmates and an arena full of still-devoted fans, were having a lot of fun.