Last night, I found myself some place I never thought I’d be…at a New Kids on the Block concert. Not because I’m ashamed to be a NKOTB fan, mind you, but because I thought the boy band would never get back together. 20 years after the success of their breakthrough album, “Hangin’ Tough”, the still (relatively) young New Kids have reunited and I was fortunate enough to see their first show on American soil in fourteen years.
The crowd was, as expected, about 90% women.Â Somewhat surprisingly, the cavernous Izod Center (formerly Continental Airlines Arena, capacity 20K) was about 90% full. While I overheard a bunch of guys in the men’s room complaining about their wives or girlfriends forcing them to come to the show (one guy said that he said he’d come to this show if his wife went to Cruefest), there were also a handful of dudes sporting NKOTB tees, coming out of the closet, so to speak, after (like me) being embarrassed to be a New Kids fan during their high school (or younger) years. Hell, I even spotted one creepy Deadhead guy in the audience. Either he was looking to score some from one of the many single ladies in the audience, or he was mighty disappointed when he realized that the NKOTB aren’t little boys anymore.
Having heard the lip-synching rumors over the years, and having seen a few of their recent television performances, I wasn’t anticipating a fantastic show. I was going more for the novelty and the nostalgia than anything else. Boy, was I wrong. Jon, Jordan, Danny, Donnie and Joe put on one hell of a show, going through all of their hits while also shoehorning in a selection of tracks from their new album, “The Block” and a handful of solo smashes. The Kids (at least those whose mics were turned on) were in good voice, and at least two revealed themselves as champion vocalists (which I guess is to be expected after a quarter-century of singing live.
The master of ceremonies was unquestionably Donnie Wahlberg. The energetic Wahlberg basically served as the group’s unofficial frontman, constantly exhorting the crowd. As one of the only two single New Kids (andÂ reportedly the only one of the two who, you know, likes women), Donnie had the crowd of screaming women (louder than any concert I’ve been to in my entire life) in the palm of his hand, and he knew it.
Never considered the world’s best singers, Knight and McIntyre handled the lead vocals surprisingly well. Despite the fact that the background vocals were obviously canned (at least partially), the lead vocals were almost all live, only being shut off for 2 dance-intensive numbers: the Timbaland-produced “Twisted” and Jordan’s solo smash “Give it to You”. McIntyre has grown immensely as a vocalist, delivering a powerhouse on-his-knees version of “Please Don;t Go Girl” (obviously dropped a couple of octaves since it was originally sung by a pre-pubescent Joey) and a rousing version of his solo hit “Stay the Same”, while Jordan delivered a jaw dropping version of “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever), hitting Mariah Carey-esque high notes that no 38-year old man not named Barry Gibb should even be attempting. Among the other nice touches, tons of pyro, a segment dedicated to friends and colleagues who have been lost at the end of “If You Go Away”, the return of the classic “Right Stuff” dance moves, and the fivesome coming out in Celtics jerseys to close the show with a triumphant version of “Hangin’ Tough”, complete with Jordan throwing in a verse of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You”.
As the first American show on the band’s tour, there were some moments tha tneed some work. Aside from the two singles, the songs from their new album got a fairly muted response. An appearance by Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls (on tape) elicited yawns, and then there’s the fact that this was essentially a 3 1/2 man show. To be fair, Danny Wood elicited oohs and aaahs during a fantastic solo breakdance routine during “Games” and got a second in the spotlight with his verse on “Valentine Girl”, but Jon Knight, always the most reluctant celebrity of the five, seemed like he was just along for the ride. His mic was most likely shut off throughout the entire show (in one segment where the members all wore headset mics, he tellingly did not appear to be miked at all), and aside from a “whoo!” at the end of a cheesy segment where he and Danny tried to find the best dancer in the audience (while slipping in a plug for labelmate Lady GaGa), he didn’t utter a single word to the audience.
The opening acts were okay. Newcomer Colby O’ Donis delivered a set that was at least energetic, while Natasha Bedingfield revealed herself to be a much stronger vocalist than her records indicate, with a booming and slightly raspyÂ voice that, as my friend Chrissy suggested, would be well-suited to singing jazz. However, both acts elicited the loudest screams when they brought up the name of the group that the fans that filled The Izod Center paid to see, and the headliners didn’t disappoint. As one of the Kids said close to the end of the show “Not bad for 15 years later, eh?”
Set list: Single/My Favorite Girl/You Got It (The Right Stuff)/Medley: Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind)-Valentine Girl-Please Don’t Go Girl/Grown Man/If You Go Away/Dirty Dancing/2 in the Morning/Tonight/Twisted/Baby I Believe in You/Give it to You/Stay the Same/Cover Girl/I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)/Click Click Click/Summertime/Step By Step/Hangin’ Tough-We Will Rock You