When New Kids on the Block ignited the boy-band craze in the late 1980s, they were dismissed as derivative flashes in the pan, the kind of fickle, beloved-by-teens act that would play five concerts in the Twin Cities (to 105,000 people) in 14 months and soon disappear.
In the 2010s, New Kids have reemerged as the most relentlessly entertaining act on the arena circuit. And the most proudly cheesy, too.
In the first half-hour Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center, New Kids pulled out all the stops — confetti, flamethrowers, fireworks, streamers, hydraulic lifts and all five singers parading through the crowd connecting with 11,000 overjoyed fans.
I thought I’d witnessed New Kids pandemonium when traveling on the road with the group in 1990. The youngest member, Joey McIntyre, insisted on stopping the bus at a McDonald’s with no advance security. OMG!
However, on Wednesday, when Donnie Wahlberg, the New Kid who co-stars in CBS’ “Blue Bloods,” stood in my section singing, it was chaos for 30- and 40-something women. They rushed toward him, screamed, spilled their beers and fumbled their cellphones. And three of the five New Kids made it into our section. Get the smelling salts!
The only NKOTB fan who may have been more verklempt was birthday girl Sarah. She had all five singers croon her “Happy Birthday,” an actual NKOTB tune from back in the day, doo-wop style while they were kneeling around her onstage. When it was over, she insisted on taking a selfie with the ensemble to actually prove that it happened. There were no selfies when Joey made that McDonald’s pit stop.
Oh, forgot to mention Wahlberg standing atop a grand piano, surrounded in flames, belting out “Cover Girl.” Jordan Knight’s Chippendalesque strip tease during “Hard.” And all five buff Middle-Aged Kids, ages 44 to 48, changing clothes underneath the stage in front of live video cameras, with muscle-bound Danny Wood sporting a Minnesota Wild T-shirt and Wahlberg holding a Prince T as he mimicked Prince’s “Kiss” dance.
In their fifth Twin Cities comeback show since 2008, NKOTB still did the kind of in-unison dance steps they’ve been doing since 1989. They still lack a knockout lead singer, though Knight has a nice falsetto and Wahlberg is a true rock star despite his uncompelling rap delivery and undistinctive singing voice.
No, they are not the best dancers. Or the best singers. Nor do they have great songs. But the New Kids’ greatest skill is mastery of the stage and how to generate good, clean, ageless fun. It’s hard to argue with an arena full of smiles that well-choreographed nostalgia puts on fans’ faces.
In two hours, NKOTB managed to pack in 33 songs (including a Christmas number in June, speaking of cheesy) and enough band history to remind the fans that the group started back in ’86, alienated fans in ’94 and then split up before reuniting in the studio in 2008 and returning to the road with a series of vintage special guests, including Backstreet Boys and TLC.
It didn’t matter that Wednesday’s stop on this year’s Total Package Tour was missing Paula Abdul, the late ’80s/early ’90s pop star-turned-TV talent judge who pulled out because of a “temporary injury,” which caused her to miss the three previous gigs, as well.
Boyz II Men, 1990s favorites, opened Wednesday’s concert with the kind of smooth, harmony-oriented vocals that would make New Kids envious. But polished, soulful vocals — including “On Bended Knee,” which the Boyz mentioned they’d recorded in Minneapolis with superproducers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis — don’t an entertaining arena show make.
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719