Is this just idle fantasy, or can that be the scent of Impulse body spray wafting in the air tonight? Because every woman at Rod Laver Arena this evening – and let’s calculate the gender split as being 90/10 in women’s favour – is hell-bent on riding this NKOTBSB bronco right back to 1984 and leaving spouses, kids and mortgages in their dust.
Where is the value in boy-band nostalgia? Is it an expression of gratitude to an entity that got you through some tough times sobbing alone into the rangy hair of a Cabbage Patch Kid? Or is it a desire to be able to project, once more, your fanciful notions of true romance onto a blank slate of boy – whichever boy it is on the posters that speaks to your soul in particular – and have them return complete, unadulterated understanding without the sticky business of having to get to know one another?
As it turns out, this epic pondering as Time Out sits through the bombastic intro music is completely unnecessary, as what follows for the next 2.25 hours is entertainment unreliant on nostalgia.
There are two generations of fans here tonight, as there was barely any overlap between the two bands’ career cycles. NKOTB disbanded in 1994, while BSB formed in 1993 and never went away – they’ve come straight from their own world tour into this joint jaunt and are currently finishing off their eighth studio album. In 2010, however, the bands tested the waters by sharing the stage at New York’s Radio City, and the resulting social media hysteria prompted gargantuan promoters Live Nation Entertainment to seal the deal. By the end of 2011 the tour had already clocked up $40 million dollars – but did all nine players willingly come on board?
Since it goes without saying that every hit single from both bands will be wheeled out tonight, let’s review the boys instead and attempt to answer that question.
Irish-American Joey McIntyre (39) was 12 when he joined the band, and thus held the same appeal as the Monkees’ Davy Jones – of being the adorable, short one it was safe to fancy without worrying about too many strange adult stirrings down below. Like Jones, he’s matured into a showbiz crooner, part-Broadway (he’s starred in musicals like Wicked), part-Sinatra at the Sands. Witness the impassioned knee slide, agonised stagger and prolonged begging scene in ‘If You Go Away’. And are they… tears?
New Kids were essentially created by songwriter/producer Maurice Starr, who envisaged them as a white (and therefore more successful) version of his previous project, New Edition. In fact, both bands tonight were recruited in their teens and moulded by slightly sinister cynical industry moguls, at least one of whom did time for fraud. But we digress…
If the women of Rod Laver were to be polled on their way out, you’d probably find that Jordan Knight (42) had been a clear Newk favourite back in the day. Perhaps because he was the key deliverer of schmaltzy love schlongs in his doo-wop-style falsetto – ever-more schmaltzy love schlongs that became an increasingly bizarre flipside to the ‘new jack swing’ posturing numbers. Tonight he’s on his game, but strangely detached, as though the job in hand is the delivery, rather than making connections.
All about the connections is Donnie Wahlberg (42), who bounds the full run of the catwalk and roams restlessly around the stage, interacting with excitable ladies all the way. Marketed as the band’s bad boy, he genuinely hoisted himself up from a tough background – a handful of his eight siblings wound up in jail. Despite now being a successful actor (need a grizzled cop or crim? He’s your man), he’s nevertheless thrown himself into this tour wholeheartedly and brings to it a real playfulness.
“All that I wanted was you… and you and you and your girlfriend too,” he improvises gamely in ‘You Got It (The Right Stuff)’, in which we’re treated to – count ’em – 10 crotch slams from all five members. Then comes 2008’s comeback track ‘Dirty Dancer’, a bump-and-grind co-written by Wahlberg that rhymes “Swayze” with “crazy” without so much as a blush. He rips off his singlet to reveal the all-important abs and gets increasingly R. Kelly in his enthusiastic groin gesturing. Crowd goes wild.
Always the ‘street’ one, with the odd foray into Barry White-style spoken interludes, Danny Wood (43) busts out the breakdancing tonight. Most members have gamely returned to their early-days hairstyles, and when they’re faithfully recreating, say, the Right Stuff dance, it’s like being catapulted back through time. Wood is low on sleaze-factor, which brings a much-needed balance to proceedings, as many times tonight it feels as though we’ve been transported into a giant hen night, with a tremendously well-paid Chippendales tag team trading thrusts for screams. It seems that at any given moment either Wahlberg or Backstreet’s Nick Carter is lost in ever-more elaborate machinations involving an invisible bottom. Backstage is awash with the bands’ wives and kids, of course, but let’s not worry about that now.
Two-and-a-bit hours is a long time to be on stage throwing shapes in your silver-spun pants when your heart’s just not in it. And it seems that might be the case with Jonathan Knight (43), Jordan’s big brother. He waves and pops on cue, but will give no more. Always the quiet, doe-eyed, interview-shy one, he was perfect for girls who sought a bit of mystery… the mystery eventually revealing itself to be that he wasn’t into girls at all. He was the first to quit the band, eventually becoming a real estate developer, but he’s been back with them since their reunion in 2008 – despite also outing himself as someone who suffers from social anxiety. All fantasies are catered for tonight though, and blow us if Jonathan doesn’t appear to make as much direct eye contact with Time Out as the others. Clever, that.
While his band-mates frequently found themselves the talk of excitable groupie messageboards, Kentucky-born Brian Littrell (37), was always the church-going, one-woman man – and tonight he never gets inappropriate. Not even when, having pulled some lucky ladies out of the crowd for a spot of serenading and hair stroking (Nick buries his head in his girl’s lap), the boys threaten to “finish them off Backstreet style”. Oh god. Turns out that means dropping to one knee as though proposing – there’s lots of teasing about marriage tonight, a wry, we’re-in-on-the-whimsy-too manoeuvre.
For someone who was allegedly rejected from the Mickey Mouse Club (that launched the careers of Britney, Christina, Justin, et al), Howie Dorough (38) has the all-round nice guy routine down pat as he indulges in some pantomime spiel with the crowd. If you hankered after Howie as a young girl, you were plumping for the sweet, dependable type, and he still exudes loveliness. Like Littrell, the problems stemming from fame “affecting our reality”, as their hit ‘Larger Than Life’ put it, seem to have passed him by, and these days he’s a family man who’s a band manager himself.
AJ McLean (34) is the Backstreet counterpart of Donnie: both were pigeonholed as the bad boys, although in AJ’s case a spell in rehab for crack addiction and the ensuing repent on Oprah underlined that. While anyone putting the hard yards in a boy band might expect to do a lot of living in a short amount of time, throw in conquering a drug addiction by the time you’re 25 and you should be awarded some kind of golden bauble. Pairing up on stage for a chat, McLean and Wahlberg address their reputations in an “aw shucks” manner. Tonight, the heavily tattooed McLean’s full of beans and keen to get amongst a very adoring public as both bands utilise the walkways up into all four sectors of the crowd.
As any Backstreet fan will tell you, though, it’s Nick Carter (32) who steals the show. The boy from Upstate New York, where his family ran the Yankee Rebel bar, has had family tragedies and dramas worthy of an American soap of late (as it is, they appeared in their own E! reality show, House of Carters), but on stage he’s most definitely a man living in the moment. Carter gives it 110 percent, always, veering on the verge of a hyperactive sex pest. Seriously – every time he plants his legs wide, you know there’s an epic fuck tableau to come. “I wonder what he was like as a kid,” Time Out and its companion utter in unison as we gaze awestruck upon him air guitarring, head-banging, crotch-pumping a camera man, leaping into the band’s vicinity and smashing on the drum kit. (An encore and a tickertape parade not enough?) If he’s still treading the sobriety path, we’d definitely like to have what he’s not having.
Tonight’s experience is a whirl of sensation designed to take the breath away – literally sometimes, as the first eight rows down the front during New Kid’s fervent ‘I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)’ must have been choked senseless by a waterfall of dry ice. But how about that song? As soon as it kicks in, it’s like a wave of ‘cuddle chemical’ oxytocin has been unleashed. Cameras linger on the faces of women dewy with hope, wide-eyed and transposed into a sense of vulnerable wonder that only a teenage girl can harbour. It’s actually rather beautiful. Beat that, One Direction.
Of course, that’s soon humped out of the water with the return of Backstreet Boys, ramping up the raunch with ‘I Want it That Way’ (Time Out’s long-held belief that this is a paean to anal sex is confirmed when Carter sniggers and changes one of the lines…). Both bands have recently taken the marketing machine a notch further, offering fans tickets to summer cruises (recommended reading: What the Backstreet Boys Cruise Taught Me About Sex, Love and Nostalgia and NKOTB Summer Cruise) and Time Out can only picture the Spring Break-style carnage out on the Atlantic Ocean.
Winding up with joint single ‘Don’t Turn Out the Lights’, ‘Hanging Tough’ and a Queen mash-up, the night goes out in a flurry of bangs and crotch thrusts. It could have been shambolic, it could have been half-arsed, it could have been an argy-bargy of bingo wings and fluffed notes. It was none of these things. It was top-shelf entertainment.
10 questions with Nick Carter