By Ashleigh Williams and Kate DiGirolomo
In the trend of reemerging boybands, O-Town is giving it another go with a third album—Lines and Circles—and a new tour. This time they’re down one member (you just keep taking those gym selfies, Ashley), but if my experience at Irving Plaza is any indication, that’s hardly a deterrent. It’s been at least a dozen years since I’ve seen them perform, and whilst we have all sadly gotten older (but perhaps wiser), that buzz of excitement is still thrumming through me post-concert. If One Direction has taught me anything, it’s that I will never pass up the opportunity to unabashedly obsess over a quality boyband (or a not so quality one, as the case may be—looking at you, Dream Street). And while I’m certainly used to standing in long lines, engaging in endless speculation and theories, and passing around the newest photos and YouTube clips, there was something so particularly spectacular about watching it happen for O-Town. These fans were my people—all in the mid-20s to early 30s; all still amped to love the band who had taken up so much space in their heads during those happy, awkward years of adolescence. It was trippy and comforting and perfect.
And O-Town damn well delivered. Opening with “Liquid Dreams”, I knew they were fully aware of—and ready to embrace—the nostalgia drawing fans back, and they kept the older songs coming, complete with choreography and Erik Michael’s traditional throwing of his towel into the crowd. I honestly did not know how much I needed to see this show until I was screeching all of the words (I may or may not have had a religious experience during “These Are the Days”) and clawing at poor Ashleigh’s arm (a very willing sport and documenter of the evening, so thank you to her). I have to admit that originally I was not especially invested in their newest album, but as it so happens a live performance can change anything, and I have been singing nothing but the title track ever since. From start to finish, the energy was high, the screaming loud, and the absolute love these gentlemen have for both their job and each other shining from their wonderfully sweaty faces.
But that’s not all, my friends, because then came the meet and greet. In my many MANY years of adoring boybands, I have only ever met one (again, Dream Street; again, yes, I know they were actually quite awful), and there was only so much my preteen self was capable of in the ways of charm and conversation back then. Now I was a 27-year-old, waiting to meet the band about whom I had once attempted to write fanfiction (don’t judge). Actual adult-level conversation would be expected of me. What the hell was I supposed to say? As it turns out, not much. By the time Ashleigh and I reached the table, Sharpies had been taken away (so nothing signed) and the venue was doing it’s best to get everyone out in a timely manner. I vaguely recall attempting to explain to Erik why my best friend, Joanna, wasn’t able to make it and memorizing his reaction to relay to her later, and trying to let my hand linger on Dan’s shoulder for as long as humanly possible for the photo. And then I was suddenly standing outside, trying to analyze the quality of my pictures (not great) and shove all of my merch into my tiny bag for the train ride home.
I was a ‘casual fan’ of O-Town in their heyday. Probably. I don’t really know what that term means, now that I’m a well-adjusted adult with paid time off and direct deposit that essentially funnels my paycheck into One Direction’s bank account. Back in the early 2000’s, however, I was nothing but casual, rocking my mom’s velour leggings and over-sized Adidas shirts like the fashion pioneer I’ve always been. I’d heard Liquid Dreams on the radio enough times to sing along, and a few episodes of Making the Band confirmed Ashley as my favorite (through my grueling selection process entitled, “Set your sights on the blondest and the prettiest”). So when Kate asked offered me a ticket to O-Town’s show at Irving Plaza that night, I was excited, but also a little nervous. Would I survive, only knowing the better part of two, maybe three songs? Or would I be torn apart, exposed as a poser taking up valuable venue space that could’ve gone to a ‘real’ fan?
The latter concern weighs on my mind nearly every time I see a popular artist perform with whom I’m not familiar, but I needn’t have worried. While I wouldn’t say the mood of the night was exactly “mellow,” (a few rather eager fans behind us took to heckling the two opening acts, and eventually, the promotional calendar that was being projected onto a white screen between sets), the energy was borne of genuine excitement to see a long-loved music group, not of fan pretention or competition. No one seemed to mind that I didn’t recognize a song right away, or at all; they were much too busy belting the lyrics back to the band.
Have I even mentioned the band yet? O-Town rocks, folks. Seriously. They know what their fans want, even after all these years—playful banter, a mixture of new jams with the old favorites, and dancing in unison. I’m not sure I can stress enough how magical this was, is, and always will be. During every single song, at least two of these gentlemen whipped out a routine. Sure it’s a bit silly, watching four men in their early 30’s rhythmically jut their chins left and right whilst singing, “You’re my right kind of wrong,” but it’s also wonderful to see a group that doesn’t take itself too seriously to recognize the origin of their appeal, and doesn’t seem embarrassed by the term “boy band” even though the “boy” aspect of the title no longer applies. There was so much shimmying, shaking, and even singing, that I found myself grinning like a loon the whole way through. The connection between the band and the crowd was not only tangible but contagious, and I’m incredibly grateful I was able to serve as witness and archivist while Kate flailed her heart out. I also may have developed a little crush on Erik based on his stage presence, and affability during our brief meet and greet. And his twitter. And his instagram posts. But it’s just a small crush. Casual, even.