'They couldn't breathe': The first time New Kids on the Block conquered Milwaukee
When the New Kids on the Block really were new kids, no music act was bigger. The first time the fab five came to Milwaukee, on Jan. 10, 1990, they packed the Bradley Center with screaming teenage fans. Some of those fans, no longer teens themselves, likely will be going Wednesday night to Fiserv Forum, where NKOTB will share the stage with fellow 1980s/'90s acts Salt N Pepa, Naughty by Nature, Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. Here's The Milwaukee Journal's front-page story by then-reporter Jim Stingl from Jan. 11, 1990, when the New Kids first conquered Milwaukee. (The band re-invaded two more times in 1990: for shows June 30 and July 1 at Alpine Valley Music Theatre, and again at the Bradley Center Nov. 9.)
Susan Simon, 15, had life right where she wanted it.
She held a fifth-row ticket to see the awesome — make that totally awesome — New Kids on the Block at the Bradley Center Wednesday night. And she was standing 20 feet from the front door of the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee waiting for her favorite Kid, Donnie, and the rest of the boys to emerge and duck into a limousine.
Susan had dipped into her babysitting money and spent $18 on a stuffed Grover character, Donnie's favorite, draped in a peace-sign necklace, which Donnie likes, and wearing a yellow and black wristband, Donnie's favorite colors. She wanted to give it to Donnie or, as a last report, throw it on stage during the show.
In Grover's mouth was a letter from Susan to Donnie, not unlike the thousands of other letters that starstruck kids send the Kids, a pop-and-soul quintet from Boston ranging in age from 16 to 20 and dripping with clean-cut wholesomeness and teen-magazine good looks. Their second album, "Hangin' Tough," has gone multiplatinum and given birth to four Top 10 singles.
"I just told him I like him, and I told him to write me back if he had time," Susan said shyly as she stood vigil Wednesday with dozens of other pubescent girls for a scream-fest outside the Hyatt, 333 W. Kilbourn Ave., where the band was staying on the top floor.
Hyatt workers spent all day trying to keep the young fans out of the hotel, but every time they turned around they found a few more sneaking up a stairwell or onto an elevator. A mini-riot ensued when one member of the band returned by limousine from a shopping trip to the Grand Avenue mall and had to be wedged through the crowd.
"I touched him! I touched him! I touched him! I'm never washing this glove again, I swear," said one delirious teen.
Susan, who is from Little Chute, and three of her friends and two moms drove to Milwaukee Wednesday for the show. Just this once, the moms had arranged for the girls to take a day off from school for something they probably will remember far longer than whatever war was discussed in history class.
"Once we got into Milwaukee, they couldn't breathe because they knew they were breathing the same air in the same town as the New Kids on the Block. They were hyperventilating," said Susan's mom, Judy Simon.
She's one of the thousands of Woodstock-vintage parents who accompanied young fans — ranging from about 7 to 17 — to the New Kids' sold-out show at the Bradley Center. The crowd of more than 18,000 was so young that a room for lost children was set up in an area normally used by opposing sports teams.
"You can feel the excitement out there, and you kind of envy them. For many, it's their first concert," said Terry Cullen, who heads up security for many concerts here.
The New Kids show was a refreshing change for Cullen, who is accustomed to checking people at the doors for weapons and bottles when the Motley Crues of the world come to town. There was none of that from this ponytailed audience.
Tempting comparisons between the unchained hormonal reaction greeting the New Kids of today and the Beatlemania of 25 years ago might prove ridiculous in the long run, but none of that mattered to Jenny Doughty and Lisa Campbell, 14-year-olds from Waukesha. All they cared about was trying to con their way backstage to meet Donny, Danny, Jordan, Jon and Joey.
"We love them more than life itself. We live for them," Lisa said, turning away from the muscular security guard in front of the door leading backstage.
"It's sick, but it's true," Jenny confessed. They each paid a scalper at school $30 for the tickets, $11 more than their face value. (Note: Tickets for Wednesday's 7:30 p.m. NKOTB show at Fiserv Forum go for $44.95 to $228.)
Brian Stark of Mequon brought his daughter, Jessica, to see her favorite band, the one she said she falls asleep to at night and wakes up to in the morning.
Dad is 40 and Jessica is 7. "We average out between us," said Stark, reaching into his pocket to make sure he still had his earplugs.
In the Bradley Center's outer lobby, Al Perlberg was selling New Kids programs at $12 each as fast as he could take them out of the box. New Kids shirts were going for as much as $30.
"Boy, these young people have the money nowadays. It's amazing," he said as people crowded around him on three sides with cash in their outstretched hands.
The crowd was at least 90% female, a ratio not lost on Matt Shilts, 17, of Milwaukee, and his three male friends at the show.
"There's no guys here. We're in good shape," he said after tripping the turnstile.
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