BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
[This review was originally published on June 21, 2013.]
It’s an amusing coincidence that tour routing brought the boy-bands-of-old – New Kids on the Block, 98 Degrees and Boyz II Men – to Philips Arena one night before intersecting with the boy band currently inciting teenage shriek fests, One Direction.
There might even be a few of you out there attending both shows – Thursday’s night’s nostalgia romp with the girls and Friday’s exercise in hyperventilation with the kids.
And if One Direction can sound and look as good as the late-30s-early-40s guys on the cutely named “The Package” tour in 20 years, then we’ll raise a pint to you, Harry Styles.
As expected, the nearly sold-out crowd at Philips for Thursday’s triple bill was predominantly female, mostly 30-something and older and very, very vocal.
Although Boyz II Men had the unenviable task of opening the show at precisely 7:30 p.m. when a chunk of the audience was still filtering in or stuck in traffic, the trio of Nathan Morris, Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris impressed with their trademark gospel-flecked harmonies.
Their zippy 30-minute set hit the highlights as Wanya literally assumed the Tim Tebow position for “On Bended Knee” after belting some record-perfect wails and the trio skipped through a shower of confetti during “I’ll Make Love to You.”
While none of the guys is a knockout vocalist alone, their combined efforts still sounded honeyed and soulful, whether presenting the mournful “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” or busting out the joyful raps in “Motownphilly” (complete with trademark footwork).
The Boyz – who, like all of the acts on the bill were backed by a four-piece band – were barely off the stage when time crept a little further into the ‘90s and 98 Degrees arrived.
The stage setup for “The Package” tour is designed for maximum ogling. While the groups all started their sets on the main stage, they spent most of their time on an in-the-round structure in the center of the arena, and 98 Degrees worked the angles particularly well.
The loudest yelps were reserved for the hunky, cheerful Nick Lachey, though all of the guys – Drew Lachey, Jeff Timmons and Justin Jeffre – received their share of adulation.
Although their 45-minute set was heavy on the generic ballads that kept them on the AC charts in the late-‘90s and some songs were a bit TOO choreographed, the quartet offered creamy pop harmonies on weepers including “Invisible Man” and “The Hardest Thing.”
They also performed a couple of tunes from their new “2.0” record – their first in 13 years. “Girls Night Out” plays to their core audience, but it isn’t the most memorable offering in their inventory. Then again, how many women were gaping at Nick Lachey’s biceps and thinking, “Gee, if only this song were better”?
After some rote “Is it all right if we take off our jackets?” shtick, the guys – now stripped to white tank tops – escorted four ladies onstage to serenade with “My Everything,” a cute moment that will undoubtedly be shared on a thousand social media pages.
And while even the most ardent 98 Degrees fan can good-naturedly make fun of the goofy “Give Me One More Night (Una Noche)” – hey, it was their highest-charting single, so there is that – the foursome turned out an appropriately spicy rendition, with Drew Lachey showing some of the hip swivels that helped him win “Dancing with the Stars.”
After a brief intermission, the familiar forms of Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood and Jordan and Jonathan Knight appeared above a cascade of dry ice and the not-as-familiar stains of the new “We Own Tonight” filled the venue.
It wasn’t quite the electrifying jumpstart as their Philips appearance from almost exactly two years ago with the Backstreet Boys, but after knocking out a couple of more “new era” tunes (“Block Party” and “Summertime”), NKOTB fully executed their polished arena assault.
White beach balls swooped around fans’ heads, fire streamed upward on the main stage, colored glitter (or something) rained onto the circular stage – which often rose like the Millennium Falcon – and lighted mic stands danced unaccompanied.
The guys, meanwhile, clad in symmetrical black and white ensembles (they would change clothes and remove some throughout the nearly two-hour show), sounded in sync as they pointed fingers, thrust pelvises and did their pendulum-leg dance during “You Got It (The Right Stuff),” which was beefed up with rock guitar.
McIntyre and Jordan Knight sounded particularly hearty – Knight on his falsetto-weaving cover of The Delfonics’ “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind” (a Top 10 hit for NKOTB in 1986) and McIntyre during “Please Don’t Go Girl,” which he sang atop the Lazy Susan-like stage lift and infused with all of his Broadway-trained vocal holds and stares.
At one point in the show, Wahlberg – the gruff counterpoint to his sweeter-voiced mates – engaged in standard concert banter by naming other cities on the tour with loud audiences, a harmless statement that for whatever reason prompted this crowd to boo places such as Cleveland and Toronto. Stay classy, Atlanta.
But soon the group dialed down the mania for an acoustic segment that featured the fivesome seated on stools that rotated around the stage. The selections ranged from great (Jordan Knight’s Prince-aping “Kiss,” though, as good as he looks, the ab-baring was a bit silly) to surprising (Force MD’s “Tender Love”) to merely eh (the tepid, Wahlberg-led “Hot in Herre”).
With the new songs and the obligatory acoustic renditions out of the way, NKOTB were finally untethered and took full advantage with a closing romp that included “Step By Step” (with Jordan Knight turning out some fancy footwork), “Cover Girl” (with Wahlberg losing his shirt and nearly his pants, too) and the gotta-play-it “Hangin’ Tough.”
Who knows what the future holds for this current crop of boy bands, but as the men of “The Package” proved, there is much to live up to.