Review: Have New Kids on the Block still got the right stuff? Screaming fans say ‘yes’
New Kids on the Block were the stuff of innocuous preteen fantasies when they rolled out of Boston back in 1988 with the crush-worthy charms of a bittersweet ballad called “Please Don’t Go Girl.”
That breakthrough single was the first of five songs from their second album, “Hangin’ Tough,” to crack the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, touching off a shriek-inducing wave of New Kids mania.
The youngest, Joey McIntyre, was just 15 at the time.
He’s 44 now, still inducing shrieks with the same four heartthrobs he’s been learning dance steps with for more than 30 years.
Their names, as previously scrawled across the notebooks of a generation, are Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood and the Knight brothers, Jordan and Jonathan.
Friday in Phoenix, they played to what certainly looked to be a capacity crowd at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The screaming may have fooled you into thinking there were twice that many people. But there weren’t. The fire marshal wouldn’t let that happen.
Still got the right stuff
The question for New Kids is “How do you entertain someone when you’ve taken them from preteen slumber parties to bachelorette parties and out the other side?”
And if you don’t think that’s a question these guys asked and answered, how do you explain the skill with which they pulled it off?
The right stuff? They’ve still got it. And they serve it with a playful sense of self awareness.
Did they go a little heavy on the Chippendales theatrics, with the backstage quick-change cam and Wahlberg showing off his abs while standing on top of a flaming piano? I’m sure that depends on who you’re asking.
But this is their crowd. And they know how to work it, with their matching outfits and slick choreography. They wandered the crowd, shaking hands, and performed for a while on a much smaller stage at the back of the venue, where Wood executed some serious breakdancing moves in an ASU Sun Devils jersey.
They’d come back to Phoenix for two reasons, Wahlberg explained to thunderous applause by way of introducing “Summertime,” the Top 40 hit that announced their return in 2008.
“Nobody knows how to party like Phoenix,” he said. “That’s one. But we came back here to bring some happiness back into this f–king world.”
And that’s exactly what they did for nearly 20,000 people.
Does it help that they’ve mastered the fine art of staring straight into the crowd as they sing in a way that seems to say, “That’s right, I see you and you’re beautiful. That’s why I’m sending this one out to you and only you. Because you are my favorite girl?”
Of course it does.
The performance began with the five men rising from beneath the stage on a hydraulic lift in matching outfits, having set the tone with a video that played out like a movie trailer.
They opened with a new song, “One More Night,” whose racy lyrics were a far cry from the subject matter of their 1984 debut.
“She gets me high / Lying on my bed with that look in her eye / Reading the signs / I’m riding every curve with her into the light.”
And it somehow felt perfectly natural when they cut directly to “My Favorite Girl” from “Hangin’ Tough,” grinning their way through the chorus of “My favorite girl, oh, she’s my favorite girl, don’t you know” while executing a series of synchronized dance moves as confetti rained down on the crowd.
So many pelvic thrusts
They stripped down to sleeveless black undershirts for the more recent “Dirty Dancing,” which involved more pelvic thrusting than “My Favorite Girl.” So many pelvic thrusts.
And then it was back to the ‘80s again for the opening track of “Hangin’ Tough,” “You Got It (The Right Stuff).”
There’s no escaping the nostalgic aspects of a show like this. They’re playing to a sold-out crowd made up primarily of fans who spent their tween years crushing hard on every New Kids picture they could find in “Tiger Beat.”
But they managed to satisfy that needs of the nostalgic while making a case for the music they’ve made since reuniting in 2007.
In fact, the mix of old and new was probably less focused on the early years than, say, a Paul McCartney show.
And a lot of the older songs were performed in a series of medleys broken down by album with the cover art projected on the screen behind the screen to rapturous applause.
That portion of the concert started with five songs from their 1984 debut, which flopped on impact but eventually went triple-platinum when the label chose to cash in on the “Hangin’ Tough” hysteria by issuing their heartfelt take on the Delfonics’ “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” in 1989, resulting in another Top 10 hit.
Three songs from 1990’s “Step By Step” gave way to four from “Face the Music,” a 1994 release that Wahlberg joked about the fans not liking as much as their previous work, which was certainly true at time.
A large part of their fan base seemed to think they’d grown out of their New Kids phase by 1994.
But here we are.
They even dipped into their “Merry, Merry Christmas” album.
And then, it was back to the future with two songs from “Thankful,” a new EP – the nostalgic “Still Sounds Good to Me,” with its lyrical references to 1989,and “Hard (Not Luvin U),” where the double entendre of the title was duly reinforced with phallic images, from bananas and eggplants to a champagne bottle spraying.
And speaking of bringing this thing to a climax (just trying to stay in the spirit of the show), the concert ended with not one but three chart-topping singles, “Step by Step,” a soulful “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” and a muscular “Hangin’ Tough,” which included a snippet of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
It was everything the New Kids faithful could have hoped for in 2017. And maybe more.
It’s called the Total Package Tour for reasons that go deeper than their love of phallic humor. It’s an actual package tour with two well-chosen openers who also play well to nostalgia for the early New Kids era – Paul Abdul and Boyz II Men.
Still forever your girl
Abdul hasn’t been on the road since the Under My Spell Tour wrapped in 1992.
But she’s still got the moves and energy to lead her crew of backup dancers through a hit-filled set that kept things short and sweet while touching on the highlights of her career, including an appearance by the legendary MC Skat Kat (via video).
The animated cat made his appearance on a feisty romp through “Opposites Attract.”
And after setting the tone with “The Way That You Love Me,” she managed to feature no fewer than five chart-topping singles (that’s the right stuff) in a six-song set that may have peaked with her biggest hit, “Straight Up,” before bringing her part of the package to a close with a friendly reminder that she is forever your girl.
Boyz II Men
Boyz II Men opened the show with a deeply soulful survey of their own career. After setting the tone with their first single, “Motownphilly,” they made their way through such obvious highlights as “On Bended Knee” (which ended with Shawn Stockman on his bended knee, pleading his case), “I’ll Make Love to You” and “A Song for Mama.”
They strapped on instruments for a spirited medley of Lenny Kravitz’ “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” the Guess Who’s “American Woman” and Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven” and treated the fans to their take on the Five Satins gem “In the Still of the Night.”
When it came time to feature “One Sweet Day,” a massive hit recorded with Mariah Carey, they invited fans to take Mariah’s part – how hard could that be? – which resulted in a rousing singalong. Of course, most songs they did resulted in a rousing singalong, from “I’ll Make Love to You” to the set-closing “End of the Road.”
New Kids setlist
One More Night
My Favorite Girl
You Got It (The Right Stuff)
Remix (I Like the)
Stop It Girl
Be My Girl
I Wanna Be Loved by You
Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)
Call It What You Want
You Got the Flavor
Never Let You Go
If You Go Away
Peace to the World
This One’s for the Children
Still Sounds Good to Me
Hard (Not Luvin U)
Please Don’t Go Girl
Step by Step
I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)
Hangin’ Tough / We Will Rock You
Paula Abdul setlist
The Way That You Love Me
Singin’ in the Rain
Forever Your Girl
Boyz II Men setlist
On Bended Knee
It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday
Water Runs Dry
Are You Gonna Go My Way / American Woman / Locked Out of Heaven
I’ll Make Love to You
In the Still of the Night
A Song for Mama
One Sweet Day
End of the Road