Friday night at the Smoothie King Center, technology made it possible for fans to revisit their younger selves and the touchstones of their young desire.
Friday night, I reviewed the New Kids on the Block/TLC/Nelly show for The New Orleans Advocate, and much of my take on that surreal experience is online here. I took the assignment because the show felt like an occasion to talk about nostalgia, but it was more complicated than that. In ways, the show was one that couldn’t have existed before. The old Club MTV tours presented the stars of the moment performing to backing tracks and often lip syncing, so the audiences for New Kids, TLC and Nelly were unlikely to be put off by the reliance on canned music.
New Kids traveled with a four-piece band, but unless the keyboard player was adding a lot of parts, some of their music was pre-recorded, and it’s hard to believe I was only hearing five voices much of the time. Neither TLC nor Nelly made any effort to hide the band in a can and in the case of TLC, they let Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez rap from beyond the grave. Those moments were strange because there was no effort onstage to account for what was happening or to have anything visual happen. T-Boz and Chilli simply continued to groove in their gold, tin-foil bib-front overalls while no one took the lead. (Their set was the saddest, with little energy or purpose.)
Technology has also developed so that canned parts can be played in ways that sound convincing. It didn’t for Nelly, but that was more likely the result of the politics of the PA, where he who goes first gets the shittiest sound. We almost had to imagine or remember everything about his songs because so little beyond his vocals were distinct, and even they were dubious. Still, when Nelly did Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” he let Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard’s voices play with no one singing them to get to the chorus where he and his posse could join in en route to his guest spot.
It’s tempting to wag fingers at these lazy artists, but if they had to pay bands to play with them, there’s a good chance that touring in general wouldn’t be profitable or even possible for some of them. But as was clear on Friday, the audience wanted to hear their favorite songs, and the fact that “Country Grammar,” “Hot in Herre,” “No Scrubs,” “Waterfalls,” and countless New Kids songs sounded like the songs they knew and loved was a plus, and the audience was ecstatic almost from the start.
Besides, the show wasn’t one people went to for artistry or to hear anyone reinvent anything. My take was that the overwhelmingly female audience revisited the relationship between music and their changing, maturing desires through the songs and singers. As Alison Fensterstock put it in her Nola.com review, “The women who entered puberty as screaming fans of NKOTB in the late '80s came of age to TLC's heartfelt, emotional R&B jams in the '90s, and as full-grown adults, let loose to Nelly's blockbuster hit as the millennium turned.”
- In her review, Fensterstock talks about the “Quick Change Cam,” which ran a teasing video feed of the New Kids members getting out of one wardrobe and into tuxes for the next segment. Before the show even started, a commercial for Cottonelle bathroom tissue ran on the video screens over the stage, and it confusingly tied toilet paper to a British woman asking the group members about going commando. Much of it was hard to follow as the conversation about New Kids going commando set off the excitable audience.
- It seemed silly to point out that the tour title, “The Main Event,” was used by Frank Sinatra when he did a four-night stand in Madison Square Gardens in 1974, one night of which was recorded and released under that name as a live album. Making that the title for a boy-band reunion tour seemed cheeky, assuming they were aware of that at all.