I don’t go to concerts very often. I don’t keep up with music as much I used to while a teenager. For those that I do keep up, I’m not that devoted to the artists that I’d want to see them live. The ones that I would want to see live- Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin- are sadly no longer alive. I wish I had more dedication to singers to see them live (if only I could translate some of my book and TV love to artist appreciation) because concerts are on a whole new level of fun than normal activities. What sets concerts apart from most activities is the high energy at these events. The singers’ passion and enthusiasm is contagious, leaving attendees happy and content. The past concerts I attended – Tony Bennett, Ricky Martin, Harry Connick Jr, Beach Boys, – were some of the most memorable evenings I’ve had.
Even though I’m not a frequent concert attendee, when I learned that the New Kids on the Block (NKOTB), Boyz II Men, and Paula Abdul were coming to Chicago, I knew I had to go. The two groups and singer have been touring the country together. I grew up on Paula Abdul and Boyz II Men. Paula Abdul was more a staple during my pre-teen years. I still remember the dance moves that I created with my friends to her songs. I remember her music videos and how sad I thought “Rush Rush” was. While Boyz II Men had some songs during my pre-teen years, the majority of their songs came on the radio during the age that I half-jokingly call “the dark years,” aka middle school. Their songs provided the light and entertainment during some pretty frustrating and hormonal times.
In contrast to Paula Abdul and Boyz II Men, I was on the younger side to fully appreciate NKOTB’s music. Apparently – a fact I learned yesterday- New Kids on the Block’s released their first album when I was three (I had previously not known they had been around that long). Their most famous songs- “Hangin’ Tough”, “Cover Girl”, “Right Stuff”- came out when I was five. My memories of the NKOTB involve singing those songs in front of my mirror and hearing/seeing the NKOTB dolls in commercials/stores. Even though I wasn’t as dedicated to NKOTB, I was still excited to see these people that had some part of my childhood ( a period I remember fondly).
Paula Abdul ended up not able to perform due to an injury. However, the two other groups more than made up for the missing performance. From the beginning of the concert to the very end, I was impressed at both groups’ dedication to their fans and love of the music that made them famous. I was fortunate enough to have floor seats, so practically got to see all singers’ facial expressions. The strangest part about seeing both groups in person is that even though they were such a huge part of my childhood and are incredibly famous, I instantly forgot about their fame and just saw them as normal people. I know I had a more meaningful experience because I got to see them for their talent and humanity and not for all the hype, which is transient and artificial.
Boyz II Men opened the concert with “Motown Philly.” I was a little sad that I saw only the three member group and fondly remembered the fourth member, Michael McCray, the deep bass voice in all the songs (he unfortunately had to leave the group in 2003 for health reasons). Aside from this unhappy aspect, I enjoyed every minute of their performance. I was immersed from the get-go; I was singing unabashedly in my horrible voice and trying not to bump next to my neighbor while dancing (the chairs were so close together!) My biggest challenge was to get good camera shots for memory while not getting too caught up with photos. I didn’t want to miss out on the experience because I was too caught up with images.I did a fairly good job with taking in the Boyz II Men portion and keeping the phone away (during the New Kids set, I got slightly caught up with the camera at times).
For the majority of the songs Boyz II Men sang, I thought about who I was and where I lived when the song first came on the radio. One of their songs, “Yesterday,” made me think more of the present than the past. For the first time, I digested the lyrics (I don’t think I really listened to lyrics that well when growing up. I just liked a good jam). The lyrics really hit on how hard it was to give up the past good times and move forward. I personally have struggled with this recently, so got emotional as I heard the lyrics.
My favorite part of the Boyz II Men set was their song” One Sweet Day.” The song was originally sung with Mariah Carey. Since she wasn’t there, the audience sung her part. It was a thrilling experience to sing this with 100s of other people and the group themselves. This song was one of my go-to- songs while growing up, so I was really putting all my energy into the song more than others (one of the reasons I loved the song was that Mariah Carey was also my favorite singer at the same time as Boyz II Men. I was ecstatic when they sang the song together).
Aside from one technical glitch, the entire set went smoothly. I loved that they played “Mama,” a song that isn’t as famous as their other ones but is one of the sweetest songs I’ve heard. The songs is such a wonderful tribute to mothers. Boyz II Men also sang – very well, I might add- some cover songs, which I presume was to fill in for what would have been some of Paula’s time.
Once the Boyz II Men completed their set, we had a break before the New Kids on the Block show. I don’t even know where to even start in summarizing NKOTB other than to say that wow, do the New Kids got an infinite amount of energy. It’s really easy to overlook the reality behind who the group is today when you are caught up in who they were when they first came onto the musical scene. When you are caught up in the nostalgia, you feel as if you are time traveling back to the 90s and everything is exactly the same. When you actually contextualize them in terms of the present day, you suddenly realize how impressive it is that these men, who are energetically singing and dancing non-stop- are, in-fact, almost 50. I’m more than 15 years younger than them and have half their energy (moving forward, I’m going to try to be more like NKTOB with pushing myself more).
While I only knew less than a handful of NKOTB’s songs, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the songs I didn’t know. In every song they sang, I could see how authentic they were; they were truly committed to giving their all to their acts and making their fans happy. They actually ventured into the crowds (my first instinct was – whoa, security risk!) to meet their fans, and really hammed it up for their fans- who have crushes on them- with their winking, shirt removals, and dancing movements. I have such great respect for them for their loyalty to their fans.
Another thing I appreciated about the NKOTB performance was that they they briefly introduced each of their albums’ and played a song from each of them. Going down the album memory lane was a great tribute to their past and gift to the fans. I’m glad that they played songs from their new albums too; it was a great reminder to their fans that they are still producing new songs and that they should give who they are as band today a try.
Like my previous concert experiences, the NKOTB/Boyz II Men was one of the best experiences I’ve had. Their concert was the perfect distraction and source of comfort during some chaotic times. A bring round of applause to NKOTB/Boyz II Men for brightening up people’s lives.