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The o2, dublin

The much ridiculed 'corporate merger' between Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block has yielded a mouthful of an acronym, NKOTBSB.

Sounds more like an obscure Soviet counter intelligence agency than a grand alliance between the two great American boybands of the '90s. But the hook-up has also proved enormously lucrative, generating $40m in ticket sales over a 55-date trek across the US and Canada in 2011.

How to explain this box-office killing? Well, we can discount the puppyish good looks that were a significant part of the appeal first time around. With their leather jackets, even more leathery countenances and biker-workshop tattoos, the nine careworn gents who materialise en masse to the strains of Coldplay's 'Viva La Vida' resemble nobody's idea of teen pin-ups. Their jowls and wrinkles speak to lives enjoyed at full throttle; were it not for the syrupy consistency of their warbling you could easily mistake them for an assembly of ageing heavy-metal musicians.

Both outfits are better vocalists and worse dancers than you remember and their best songs are actually really great. Supported by a goateed backing ensemble, on 'Get Down (You're The One For Me)' Backstreet Boys stomp theatrically up and down the ramp that extends into the crowd.

Ratcheting up the bad boy posturing, New Kids stick their crotches out and attenuate their pouts on 'Right Stuff' while, at the conclusion of 'Cover Girl', singer Donnie Wahlberg rips off a suspiciously malleable vest. Standing before the shrieking room in all his ageing gym bunny glory, his grey pecs pulse and pop with an eerie life of their own.

With the two acts taking turns to perform, it can be difficult to keep track of who's who. They do their best to compensate. As U2's 'Beautiful Day' is pumped over the PA, Backstreet Boys invite four "lay-dees" up, the better to serenade them. Later, New Kids deliver a ballad from the middle of the crowd and Backstreet Boys start their encore, stepping through the throng, crooning as they are mobbed with camera phones.

There's a glorious finale with Backstreet Boys and New Kids facing off in a musical smackdown, trading lines from Queen's 'We Will Rock You' and snippets from 'Hangin' Tough' and 'Everybody (Backstreet's Back)'.

It's the perfect conclusion to a night of first-rate pop escapism.

Irish Independent