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September 30, 2014

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Din is served, especially in our row, at NKOTBSB at Mandalay Bay

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys — NKOTBSB — at Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 3, 2011.

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Guy in Blue, rendered rapt during the NKOTBSB show at Mandalay Bay.

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Guy in Blue, playing to Mandalay Bay's nether regions.

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Guy in Blue, giving the audience what it wants.

NKOTBSB at Mandalay Bay Events Center

New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys -- NKOTBSB -- at Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 3, 2011. Launch slideshow »
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New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys -- NKOTBSB -- at Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 3, 2011.

We focus first on The Guy in Blue.

He was seated one row in front of us, just to the left, at the New Kids on the Block/Backstreet Boys concert at Mandalay Bay Events Center. This is the set of shows billed as the NKOTBSB tour, a reunion and mixing of two of the best-selling boy bands from the 1980s and 1990s.

These lively-steppin’, full-throated heart-throbbians can still fill an arena -- a thumping crowd of 12,000 turned out at Mandalay Bay Events Center for this sashay down Memory Lane. There is no denying the popularity and marketability of either of these groups, which have combined to sell more than 200 million records.

They sold some music to The Guy in Blue, no doubt about that. Most of the audience was made up of fans who appeared to be in their 30s and 40s, fans of the New Kids and Backstreet in their original tours of duties (or is it tours of duty? Tour of duties?), shrieking as the guys cried out such hits as “The Right Stuff” and “Step By Step” (from the New Kids) and “Larger Than Life” and “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely” (Backstreet).

But The Guy in Blue was not at all a member of the show’s anticipated demographic. He had to be in his late 40s or early 50s. Of course, age makes little difference at these nostalgia shows, or any other show, for that matter, but The Guy in Blue was unique as a fan who was actually senior to the men onstage. The guy knew all the words and was in step with both bands, waving his arms at the appointed time, spinning sideways to energetically point outstretched fingers at captivated strangers. He often gestured to the crowd in the arena’s nether region, making sure the fans farthest from the action got a little love.

The Guy in Blue, he was the row captain. Head of the conga line. He was groovin’. And when you are in the presence of such untrammeled excitement, there is but one move to make: You dance, too.

The Guy in Blue had us going. Soon after the groups opened the show with a mash of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” and “The One,” pounding it down on one of the two raised stages at either end of the Events Center, the jam was on.

At one point, I considered pitching an idea to The Guy in Blue to start our own, somewhat long-in-the-tooth boy band, with KSNV Channel 3’s Hetty Chang and Fox 5 More’s Rachel Smith (two of the more energized audience members in our row) offering to serve as backing singers and dancers.

It was that type of show, kids. We need someone to serve as a catalyst and manager for this act, and Adam Steck, if you’re out there, text me at once.

Of course, not everyone can be a fan, and you might not own any NKOTBSB music yourself -- I can tell you that I don’t -- but the groups still put on an appealing performance even for non-fans. At this point in their careers, New Kids on the Block might now be the presidents of their respective homeowners associations. Backstreet Boys could well be called Wall Street Boys. “Kids” and “Boys” are words not befitting guys now in their 30s and 40s, but as Donnie Walberg of New Kids (he’s the bad one) implored, “We’re gonna make it feel like it’s 1989 in here!”

For some, that might have meant playing a Guns N’ Roses medley, but the crowd shrieked back at a decibel level reserved for the very topper-most of boy bands. This was the highest volume of screaming I’ve heard at a Vegas show since Ricky Martin’s 1999 “Livin’ La Vida Loca” tour stop, also at Mandalay Bay. An observation about screaming at these throwback concerts, by the way: The screaming of girls and women in their teens and early 20s is higher and more sustainable than that those of a generation older, which is more modulated and better paced.

But lord, was it loud, Boeing 757-type loud.

And the guys onstage can serve as an inspiration for anyone who feels that maturing might mean eschewing youthful exuberance. To a man, the New Kids and Backstreet Boys were fit and stage-ready. There wasn’t a Fat Elvis in the bunch. The choreography remains tight, if occasionally dated (the swaying arm movement is a relic of a bygone era). They sang, or shouted, well enough -- and I do believe they sang most of this show because there were moments when the vocals flattened out and you thought, “Um, maybe you should have tracked that part.”

The bands performed solo and together, forming a plausible friendship during this lucrative partnership. It’s a big, happy family. New Kid Joey McIntyre even led his 3-year-old son onstage (who was wearing a set of ear protectors, thankfully), promising there are even newer kids on the block in the offing.

At the culmination, when both groups vaulted onstage for a medley of “Everybody (Backstreet's Back)” and “Hangin’ Tough,” the guys wore bedazzled jerseys from their hometown NBA teams, the Orlando Magic for Backstreet and Boston Celtics for New Kids.

In another environment, it would have seemed a silly thing to do, as the lineup would have represented the shortest collection of NBA prospects in league history. But the crowd loved it, and it’s too bad The Guy in Blue didn’t pack a jersey.

He was as much a part of the show as anyone onstage.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow "Kats With the Dish" at twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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