The New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys join forces for a blockbuster summer tour
UNCASVILLE, Conn. — “Jordan was my favorite in the beginning, and then it moved to Donnie as I got older. And for Christmas one year, my mom got me a big, oversize Jordan Knight button. It was pretty funny.’’
Talk to any fan of New Kids on the Block and you’ll hear similar stories about cherished memorabilia from the Boston-spawned boy-band’s ’80s heyday, when the cherubic visages of the vocal quintet of Knight, Donnie Wahlberg, Joey McIntyre, Danny Wood, and Jonathan Knight adorned everything from marbles to bedsheets. But the person reminiscing today is A.J. McLean, one-quarter of New Kids’ descendants the Backstreet Boys — and now, one-ninth of NKOTBSB, the moniker the two groups are using in their current incarnation as one “superband.’’
Hanging in a dressing room with fellow BSB-er Brian Littrell prior to a recent show at Mohegan Sun Arena, McLean muses on the beginnings of his own wildly successful pop outfit and its link to the group with which they now share an uppercase B. “When we first met [former handler] Lou [Pearlman], the song that I sang was New Kids’ ‘Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).’ I didn’t do it as good as they did.’’
He’ll have plenty of time to perfect it as the Backstreet Boys — McLean, Littrell, Howie Dorough, and Nick Carter — shimmy and croon alongside their predecessors in one of this summer’s hottest concert tours.
NKOTBSB may be what they’re calling themselves, but that alphabet soup doesn’t come close to conveying the excitement of what fans are feeling as the groups join forces in fulfillment of a fantasy many 20-, 30-, and 40-something women didn’t even know they had. NKOTBSB hit TD Garden on June 4 and Fenway Park on June 11, and the newly formed collective will not only perform their greatest hits in separate sets but come together to raise nine voices in harmony to mash-ups of each other’s material in one big orgy of pyrotechnics and pop candy.
“It’s a case of one plus one equals three,’’ says Wahlberg, of the merging of two of the biggest groups to ever synchronize-step their way to the top of the charts. They have combined total album sales of 200 million copies thanks to hits like “Hangin’ Tough’’ and “You Got It (The Right Stuff)’’ in the case of NKOTB and “I Want It That Way’’ and “Larger Than Life’’ for BSB. While the New Kids took an extended hiatus beginning in 1994, the Backstreet Boys (then a fivesome including Kevin Richardson) were just launching, coincidentally with the help of former New Kids manager Johnny Wright. The New Kids reconvened in 2008 for a reunion album and tour.
“The initial discussion came when they were presented as an opening act for us [this year] and we shot it down,’’ says Wahlberg, chilling with McIntyre in a dressing room across the hall from BSB HQ. (Wood and the Knight brothers prep in another part of the venue — although Jonathan must sit out tonight’s show due to a knee injury — as the Backstreet Boys soundcheck on the arena stage nearby.) They didn’t shoot the notion down because they weren’t fans, but because they had a better idea.
“There’s a certain value in sentiment that the powers that be sometimes just don’t get,’’ says Wahlberg. “There was no light bulb that snapped on and said, ‘Hey, the promoters want Backstreet to open for us, no, let’s do a headlining tour together.’ It was like ‘Shame on those promoters! That’s an insult to the Backstreet Boys, and it’s underestimating the power of such a union.’ ’’
“It’s a dream team, it’s super fun,’’ agrees Littrell of the nine-way bromance. “They make a great dynamic group just by themselves. But when all nine of us are onstage together, it’s a moment.’’
The freshness of the idea of banding together appealed to both parties for what it would mean for themselves as performers — new voices to mesh with, new choreography to work out, new faces on either side — as well as to their fanbases, who, although separated by a decade, have plenty of overlap.
The groups also wanted to have current material to present, so they recorded two new songs, the jittery single “Don’t Turn Out the Lights (D.T.O.T.L.)’’ and “All in My Head,’’ plus a medley of their older hits and released it on a self-titled, fan-selected dual greatest-hits compilation, which debuted at number seven on the Billboard album charts this week. (Perhaps more momentously, McIntyre welcomed daughter Kira on Tuesday.)
“New music absolutely had to be part of the plan,’’ says Wahlberg. “No new music, no tour, no nothing. It wouldn’t have worked for me and probably for all of us.’’ Littrell doesn’t rule out further collaboration. “We looked at it as the dueling pianos, Billy Joel-Elton John-type thing that happens every couple of years. I don’t see why something like this couldn’t turn into that.’’
Aside from the enjoyment of performing with one another, a deep sense of gratitude pervades the conversation among all the members. No matter how many units they’ve shifted or tickets they’ve sold, they understand that their brand of glossy pop isn’t for everyone, and they’re grateful to their steadfast fans. Sums up McIntyre: “The nine of us get together and it’s just very easy. And it should be; we’re singing music and we’re so blessed to be doing this stuff that I think we all get it.’’
He remains amazed that they will be headlining the Garden again as they did twice in 2008, and then Fenway Park, entertaining upward of 40,000 fans in Boston alone. “If in 2008 you’d said, ‘Don’t worry if that didn’t go too well those two times, you’re going to get another chance.’ It’s unbelievable. And it’s not secondary, because that night’s going to be ridiculous too, but you know, Fenway?’’ he asks, shaking his head in disbelief.
Wahlberg, a diehard Boston sports fan, says he can’t even talk about playing the old ballyard where he caught the Aerosmith/J.Geils Band show last summer. “It’s too intense. I’m just looking forward to going into the Garden on June 4 and using the
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