Nearly a decade into their reunion, the New Kids on the Block proved yet again they’ve got the right stuff during a breezy, high-energy tour stop Wednesday night at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
The five guys from Boston have managed to turn three years’ worth of hits, barely enough to fill Side 1 of a cassette, into a mini-industry with tours, cruises, merchandise and even not-that-bad new albums. For just under two hours, they kept the crowd of about 11,000 entertained and titillated, with enough bumping and grinding to break hips.
They’re all in their late 40s, save for 44-year-old baby of the group Joey McIntyre, and rock some serious bodies. Think “Jurassic World” Chris Pratt, not “Parks and Recreation” Chris Pratt.
And they’re not afraid to show them off, to the point that a staple of NKOTB concerts is the mid-show costume change that’s broadcast live to the crowd via the “quickchange cam.” (Donny Wahlberg used the opportunity to show off a “Purple Rain”-era Prince T-shirt while gamely attempting a Purple One-style shimmy.)
It helps that the New Kids have hired a killer backing band that managed to extract the fun and funk out of even their most anemic songs. And the staging gives plenty of face time for Wahlberg, Jordan Knight and McIntyre, each of whom claim distinct camps of NKOTB fandom to this day. That did leave spray-tanned WWE heel contender Danny Wood and the shy, gay Jonathan Knight mostly in the shadows, but that’s showbiz.
Huge, thumping party songs dominated the first half of the show, with post-reunion new tracks “Remix (I Like The),” “The Whisper” and “Summertime” all keeping the crowd cheering. They opened with their brand-new single “One More Night,” a modern disco number that comes across as a less-irritating Maroon 5. Incorporating bits of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” at the end only sweetened the deal.
The campiest moment in a night full of them occurred during an amped-up take on 1989’s “Cover Girl” that saw Wahlberg leap on top of a flaming piano, yank up his black tank top and reveal a set of chiseled abs that I imagine he doesn’t show off much while starring on CBS’ “Blue Bloods.”
Things slowed down some in Hour 2, but the New Kids rewarded the hardcore by digging deep into their catalog by playing not one, but two, tracks from their 1989 Christmas album, complete with fake snow falling on them. They even revisited 1994’s “Face the Music,” an ill-advised move into new jack swing and hip-hop that essentially ended their career.
NKOTB has also wisely chosen opening acts to further stoke the nostalgic Gen-Xers who pay their bills. Paula Abdul, on her first tour in 25 years, and Boyz II Men fill that role for the current tour. But Wednesday was one of several no-shows for Abdul, who is suffering from a “temporary injury.” (Earlier in the day, the browser-crashing gossip website Radar Online broke the story that Abdul was just evicted from her rented Los Angeles penthouse. Coincidence?)
Boyz II Men, who also joined the New Kids in 2013, got about twice the stage time they did last time around, a savvy move given the vocal group’s nearly decade-long run of hits. Shawn Stockman got the audience roaring when he told them his group recorded 1994’s “On Bended Knee” right here in the Twin Cities with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. “It’s safe to say we have a huge affinity, love and affection for Minnesota.” Right back at you, Shawn.