Photographs by Sue Sadzak.
I walked into Air Canada Centre amongst a noticeably female crowd communally excited to indulge in the past for a few hours. Many flocks of females sporting their fresh, neon NKOTB tees that I cannot help but assume will end up in the back of a closet or gym bag after the night’s use. The crowd was in fact so largely female that many of the male washrooms had been swapped to accommodate the numbers. This is understandable with a line up of Boyz II Men, Paula Abdul and New Kids on the Block. The common theme among attendees is to embrace reminiscence for the night.
When I saw Boyz II Men on the roster I was not entirely sure I knew more than one track by them. My worries proved to be unnecessary when their set largely consisted of covers including the Guess Who’s ‘American Woman’. The three current band members: Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris and Shawn Stockman came out in all white attire with silver shoe and hat accents. Step ball-changes and Pas de Bourrees were plentiful. As were the classically boy band gimmicks of throwing garments of clothing into the crowd. Boyz II Men finished their set with the track that I was certain I knew by them, the R&B classic, ‘I’ll make love to you’. The song and the fact that I knew all of the words perfectly represents one of the many radio songs I sang along to as a pre-teen not understanding in the slightest what I was actually verbalizing. During this final number, each band member had a bouquet of roses that were gradually given to the lucky females in the front rows of the crowd.
Paula Abdul was the second act to take the stage. I’ve always known Paula Abdul as a popular entertainer sometimes referenced and romanticized in 90s/00s hip hop. However, because of when I was born, Paula Abdul has always been more affectionately remembered as the middle seat on American idol. I was excited and curious to see her perform live. At 55 years old, the woman can still dance. So impressive were her dance moves and backup dancers that you could easily ignore the lip-syncing. The costume changes were impressive and she truly exudes a desire to perform. Being a few years senior to her dancers there were many lifts and tricks to buff up the performance. But Paula Abdul held her own and offered some lovely stories about her cheerleading days along the way.
While I was more of an avid Backstreet Boys or N’Sync fan, New Kids on the Block were certainly a part of my childhood. I was excited at the opportunity to see their show and time-travel back to my pre-teen years. The five members Donnie Wahlberg, Joey McIntyre, Danny Wood, Jordan Knight and Jonathan Knight were energetic, enthusiastic and if it’s not too strange to say, looking very fit. It is rumored that they went through a fairly intensive conditioning program to prepare themselves for the full-fledged singing and dancing tour. While most enthusiastic crowds are described as a roar I do not think that would be an adequate representation of the borderline hysterical cheers that filled Air Canada Center during their performance. These cheers were fueled by copious amounts of pelvic thrusts and fist pumps. The amount of violent crotch movements and grabs made me giggle mildly uncomfortably however, I am fairly certain I was alone in the sentiment. The hits were played: ‘Dirty Dancing’, ‘One more night’. The synchronization of dance moves and the stamina were nothing short of impressive.
There is most certainly a safety in the past. Nostalgia sells. Why else are they producing an exact live-action recreation of every Disney cartoon? We all seem to want to revisit a simpler time in our lives, if only for a night. The Boyz II Men, Paula Abdul and NKOTB tour satisfied that drive to affectionately remember our childhoods in the same way you pour over old photo albums when you come across them. The performers were committed, talented and while arguably past their prime still allowed their fans to be submerged knee-deep in nostalgia for the night.