There are 20,000 people in the O2Arena, and almost all of them are female. It hits you almost as soon as you take your seat – a heady combination of oestrogen, cheap white wine, flashing bunny ears, glow sticks and Mexican waves. It is like the largest hen party you never wanted to be invited to.
And the reason? New Kids on the Block, a boyband from Boston, Massachusetts who are no longer new, or kids, who recently reformed after 15 years apart. Fifteen, some might say, blissful years. But not the thousands of women here. And I should probably confess this now: not me.
Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood, Jordan Knight and his brother Jon were the stars of the first concert I attended, 20 years ago at the age of eight. My mother took me, reluctantly, and brought earplugs with her. They were massive, back then, selling 70 million albums. They had their own cartoon and a Nintendo game, too. So popular were they that they toured for 200 nights of each year.
Without them there would be no Take That (the band were created as a British version of New Kids, or NKOTB as ardent fans call them). It was the success of Take That's comeback that prompted them to do the same, releasing an album of new material last summer. It didn't quite work, but this tour has sold out thanks to legions of twenty- and thirty-something women who should know better, desperate for a bit of youthful nostalgia.
They don't so much bound on to the stage as shuffle on to it, but perhaps this should not come as a surprise: most of the band have wives, children, while others now own real estate companies. Still, the crowd screams and before long their age and our age ceases to matter. Even a video montage of people who have died in the intervening 15 years – Tupac, Alliyah, Heath Ledger and, err, Kurt Cobain – fails to dampen the collective spirits of the audience, but that could be all the sauvignon blanc that has been imbibed.
They are great when they sing the old hits – The Right Stuff, Cover Girl, Tonight, Step by Step – less so when they insist on playing their rather lacklustre recent material. You rather get the impression that, unlike Take That, they aren't really in this for anything other than a quick buck. But when they leave the stage after a triumphant version of Hangin' Tough, one of their biggest singles, you forgive them for that. I just can't imagine that 20,000 of us would bother to get tickets to see them in another 15 years.
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