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For a Night Spent 'Hanging Tough': "New Kids on the Block"

When was six years old I had my first celebrity crush. He was not only famous, he was a singing sensation, seemed cool, was a “bad boy”, and best of all he was hot. Now at six you wouldn’t think that what I thought was hot back then would still resonate with me at thirty-one but you would be wrong. Donnie Wahlberg has only gotten better with age and is the best thing that has come out of Boston since their crème pie. Better yet is that our age difference now seems more appropriate. I am all grown up and ready to play house!

In the TWENTY-FIVE years since I first became of fan of New Kids on the Block (NKOTB), many things have changed and yet somehow stayed the same. For one thing they have as loyal and diverse of a fan base as I have ever seen. Since they reunited in 2008 and launched new albums and subsequent tours and they are as popular as back in the day.

Way back when I had all the material obsessions that showed I was a true fan. I had NKOTB curtains, sheets, a big button that doubled as a frame, t-shirts, bracelets, and even all of the dolls. My cousin had the end all be all of item: a denim jacket with Joey McIntyre’s face painted on the back. It was creepy and cool at the same time. It definitely made finding her in a crowd a lot easier. I remember watching their music videos trying to learn their dance steps and getting up early on Saturday morning to watch their cartoons. They were more than just a boy band, they were a religion, and back then even as young as we were, everyone I knew lived and died for them.

I only got to see them perform once in concert when I was younger. I remember coming home from elementary school and being so nervous not knowing what to expect. I was going with my mother, best friend, and her mother. My cousins had gone many times but without me. This was finally my turn. The concert was at Nassau Coliseum in Long Island. All I remember from that night is the dark parking lot, the crazy crowd shoving to get into the door, and then being inside where it was so loud and everyone was standing and dancing. I couldn’t see so my mother had to put me up on a barricade like stand where I stood to see the entire show. I remember my friend and I being in shock before the real excitement sunk in. I have no memorabilia from that night or anything else besides this somewhat fuzzy memory that I treasure deep within my heart. I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. But as it turns out some times opportunities come back knocking a second time if you really deserve them.

Since NKTOB has been reunited I have not seen them perform or even purchased any of their new material. I actually still listen to their old songs, the classics as they are. Their Christmas album is still a standard in my house after all the years I sang along to it as I decorated our tree. It was one of the first CDs I ever bought, probably even back when “The Wiz” was a store and not a play.

Finally when this latest tour, “The Package Tour”, was announced I decided it was time I did see them again simultaneously reliving and healing my childhood experience. I have friends who have seen them many times on these last few tours but I haven’t really given it much thought until now. I wonder why that is? All of a sudden I had a strong to desire to. So I went with it. Once they announced they would play the Barclay Center I was in, despite my previous experience there ( because they are worth it. Once I knew the opening acts were going to be Boyz II Men and 98 Degrees there was no stopping me. What else could a girl ask for?? My friend got us seats immediately!

Since I had my tickets so far in advance I ( I wasn’t really excited until my butt was in the arena. Then I was happy for many reasons and at first it had nothing to do with who I was seeing. Apparently the friend I was with this time is my good luck concert charm. Everything I hated about my experience with the Barclay Center last time didn’t exist this time. I never had any stairs to climb. I never sweat. I found good food to eat and even a Starbucks cart inside. I shoved and was able to get my merchandise reasonably fast. I didn’t find any mayo but I didn’t look either. Our seats were high but much lower this time and even though we didn’t have a bar to lean on in front of us, we were the last row so we had a wall behind us which helped with dizziness and holding our bags. Plus we were dead center and this performance had an extended center stage so were going to get a much better view than what I saw last time. The three bands even shared the same band so there was no disruption between them, there were literally minutes between performances. I have never seen a show better organized. You can set your watch by them and my friend did.

Boyz II Men were up first. My God they opened with “End of the Road” and the energy they put out and received was intense. I can still feel it. Everyone in the crowd was singing from their soul. It never ended even after their set did. I am so sorry they ever had to go. They were the most amazing performers and their voices were just as beautiful as ever. They sang all of their hits with such passion it was all new again. I could have listened and watched them forever. Just standing there singing their hearts out was a thrill. They have a new album out now and will be performing at The Mirage in Las Vegas until December so definitely check that out. They are born headliners.

98 Degrees was up next. The house lights in the Barclay Center didn’t even come up that’s how fast they were out which totally confused the audience and whoever showed up late and was mad at themselves for missing Boyz II Men assuming every show in the world doesn’t start on time. Maybe now they have learned their lesson.

As for 98 Degrees they did more of their new material than I cared for because I was not at all familiar with it and it was kind of slow. I prefer more upbeat music. When Boyz II Men sing slow songs they have so much meaning and emotion they are belting them out. Here I was starting to fall asleep and I had just come off a high. I like the few songs I knew and I figure everyone in that audience was happy just to see Nick Lachey in a wife beater tank top, or so I gather from the screaming I heard. Then finally it was time for the main attraction, NKOTB.

Before they even arrived on stage I saw they were tweeting that they could hear and feel the audience’s singing and dancing backstage. That must be an incredible experience. I don’t know how they do a show like this night after night especially after traveling on a bus. I was beat just trying to keep track of them and maybe take a few photos. This is the kind of show you have to train months for to be in the kind of shape to not only sing for over two hours but run around dancing, jumping, and thankfully stripping.

Right from the get go they were in full swing taking off in their powerful new hits. By the second song “Block Party” I was all pumped up even though I didn’t really know all of the words. It is one of those songs that are so great live you want to listen to them over and over again afterward picturing how it sounded when you saw it even if the two versions don’t match up exactly. By this point even though they were in awesome tuxedo-ish looking suits, my Donnie was already putting on a Brooklyn baseball hat and taking off his shirt. God bless his heart.

After listening to a series of new jams I was thrilled to hear the songs I grew up with and proud that I still remembered all the words to “Step by Step”. It was like time stood still. When Joey song “Please Don’t’ Go Girl” and mentioned that the last time they were in Brooklyn they were filming that video in Coney Island twenty-five years ago that just seemed impossible. I know when they first came out he was the baby of the group and now here he was all grown up. Since this concert fell on Father’s Day he even brought out his adorable little boy for a few moments. That’s when Donnie took a moment to mention that his band mates call him Captain but in Brooklyn we call him Detective! Damn straight! All those Blue Blood fans know what I am talking about.

During the middle of the show the guys were at their best and wanted to have some fun with their fans. They performed a medley of their favorite songs from over the years, both from their group and by other singers. I got to tell you I didn’t mind watching Jordan sing “Kiss”, or when the entire arena went nuts when “I Love It” was played at full volume. Donnie kept cutting off him by saying “hey ladies”, and picking up the N.Y.C. shirt he had on. Then Donnie and Jordan even took the video camera and were shooting a bit from their vantage points. But it got even crazier when Donnie said “hey I thought we were in friggin’ Brooklyn!” That’s when “Empire State of Mind” came on and I swear to God no one that was there could have possibly had a voice the next day. It was one tremendous celebration and it became hard to tell who was having more fun, the crowd or the band.

What made me happy was that the final song of the night was one of the ones I had been waiting for. After all the fun and mini intermission playing around with songs written by other artists I was happy to have my old New Kids on the Block back and have them singing to me “Hanging Tough”. Those lyrics and fly dance moves are like riding a bicycle. Some things will never change and that’s what I like to see. 

This visit to the past was more surreal than my visit two years ago to see Debbie Gibson perform ( This was also much more of an obsession of
my life and for a lot longer. This was the real deal of full circle moments. For most of it I was out of body to shocked and impressed and trying to take it all in to even enjoy how GOOD it was. I was thinking about where I was, who I was, and how close they seemed. It was something to behold how all of the stars of our lives, mine and theirs, had aligned and now I was seeing them and it meant so much. It was a night filled with new and all grown up kids on stage and in the audience playing and singing along to their new favorites along with their oldies but goodies. Each moment spent together were creating a tighter bond between the two.

Every time I am here I hear “Empire State of Mind” towards the end of the concert right before I am about to leave. It is such a powerful anthem especially for us New Yorkers from Brooklyn. But to be singing it in the Barley Center, the House that Brooklyn bought, to a bunch of Boston’s finest who were donning Brooklyn Net’s jerseys to show their unity was a remarkable sight. The feeling I got just acknowledging how these incredible men who came out swinging and left cheering left me on such a natural high. I didn’t want the night to end. It was all too perfect.
They wrapped the entire night into a pretty bow or nice package you might say, and what a nice package they had!!!

For “The Package Tour”:

For Boyz II Men:

For 98 Degrees:



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