The first time I heard the New Kids in person was a few months ago at a Mass Eye & Ear fundraiser. They were there to help out because singer Joey McIntyre's son Rhys has been treated for hearing loss at the hospital. I honestly didn't get the music but was very moved by McIntyre's sincerity and story. When a friend at our table bid for front row seats to the New Kids concert (with the Backstreet Boys) along back stage passes, and then told us we were coming, I laughed and then I cried. I love our friends but really?
I realized I was in the wrong place at dinner before the concert, around the corner from the Fleet Center, when two women came out of the men's room saying, "We assumed there were no men here," with a giggle. The restaurant and then the stadium was filled with adoring female fans, many in pink concert t-shirts and carrying signs. I have been to Springstein, U2, Dave Matthews -- I go to a lot of concerts -- but I have never heard the level of noise inside the garden last night. During the concert, one of my friends tried to figure out what was going on. Via Google he determined that the Backstreet Boys have sold 130 million albums and the New Kids on the Block 80 million.
Like most concerts in a sports arena, the acoustics weren't perfect. It was hard to hear the crooners. But the band -- African American drummer, guitar player, and key board players -- were awesome. I kept wondering what the band or in fact the New Kids must be thinking as they looked out at this crowd of hysterical women? One benefit of the female crowd was a certain sense of comfort in mingling more intimately than other concerts I have been to. The band brought audience members up on stage and then just wandered into the crowd to sing. I am sure wild, middle-aged, slightly overweight women can do damage to a star idol but it just looked and felt less dangerous than the burly men that populated the last Steve Miller Band concert I went to.
I ended up enjoying the spectacle of the show even if the music wasn't always my cup of tea. But what really shocked me most was backstage after the last encore. The band came out to spend time with us. I've been in that situation once or twice before and it always feels like some kind of shot gun marriage where the musicians really would rather be swallowing fire than spend one more moment in your presence.
For the last song both bands had worn Bruins game jerseys and Donny Wahlberg had worn a fake diamond studded Bruins hat. When he came to meet us, Don signed the hat and handed it to my buddy Harry despite the loud protests of his costume manager. "Really Donny?" the manager said. "Just make sure you hide it on the way out," Donny warned. "The girls will mug you for it."
"Their are a lot of phonies out in LA," McIntyre was telling us. "But we really try to keep it real and focus on what's really important." For him that means his family. His wife had just given birth to his third child four days ago. Towards the end of the concert he had flashed images of himself changing his newest child in the hospital as he started crying on stage. Backstage he told me how much he misses his family despite having thousands of screaming fans every night.
Where other bands broke up and got back together and broke up again, the New Kids explained they all knew each other since kindergarten. And they have been best friends all of their lives. When Joey's son Rhys had an issue, it wasn't just a problem to be solved by Joey and his wife. It was a challenge taken by all of them. And perhaps the most motivating part of the event at Mass Eye & Ear was Donny talking about how much he loves Joey and how much it meant to be at the event for his son.
After half an hour of hanging out with the band, they invited us to join them for a late night dinner and come to their concert at Fenway next week. I had had enough of being a New Kids groupie for one night. Besides, I had seen what real men they are. I didn't need any more convincing.
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