It was 27 years ago that New Kids on the Block released its breakthrough pop album Hangin’ Tough and began packing massive venues across the world with Beatlemania-style frenzies. That nostalgic vibe was thick at Van Andel Arena Saturday night when the group, along with openers TLC and Nelly, took over the venue with its Main Event tour.
Being a guy who grew up with junior-high age sisters at the peak of NKOTB’s mega stardom, I witnessed firsthand the power the Boston-bred group had over late ‘80s, early ‘90s tweens. The New Kids were a pop phenomenon that basically invented a new model for boy bands like Backstreet Boys and N’Sync. Pop hits like “Hangin’ Tough” and “Step By Step” helped NKOTB not only sell millions of records, but dolls, lunch boxes, bedsheets and an obnoxious amount of other merchandise to its overzealous devotees. There was even a Saturday-morning cartoon based on the five-piece. The band transcended into a viable brand until grunge and gangster rap put an end to their genre. In ’94 the group officially fizzled out. Since its surprising 2008 comeback the Beantown fellas have yet to fall back off – much to their harsh critics chagrin. Here they are, seven years into a “comeback” and they’re still packing a colossal room like Van Andel – not too shabby.
It’s true, in 2015 the reunited New Kids are no longer teens – all 40-somethings – and the fans are not too far behind. The lazy man’s assessment would be to poke fun at the mature men for still singing bubblegum pop while breaking out dramatic stage antics. But that’s exactly what the fans paid to see and the screaming crowd of 9,500 didn’t find NKOTB’s set off-putting at all. This wasn’t a night for rock snobs. It was for the fans who came of age buying cassettes and issues of Bop Magazine for the New Kids fold-out posters. This show allowed them to break out their throwback NKOTB t-shirts and stencil up an “I Love Jordan!” sign. Let them have their night, dammit.
Luckily for those fanatics, the original group is still intact with brothers Jonathan and Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood. They all seemed to be having a ball and haven’t lost their distinct voices. While Wood and Jonathan Knight are still the reserved ones, the rest of the vocalists spent a bulk of the evening charming the throng of dancing diehards.
Call the New Kids old all you’d like, but these guys vigorously covered all points of the enormous stage for most of the evening, pulling off the same dance moves the group did 25 years ago. There were periodic wardrobe changes, one broadcasted to the spectators via the “Quick Change Cam” – which the animated Wahlberg was sure to have fun with. And during “Tonight” the guys spent the entire span of the song off the stage, moving through the sea of adoring fans, snapping selfies and kissing cheeks.
Sure, there were a few over-the-top cheeseball moments, ie: Jordan Knight and McIntyre went topless, there was also some full-on stage humping. But there didn’t appear to be any shame in their game and the deafening shrieks proved there was a demand – and NKOTB supplied it. If you weren’t into it, you were a boyfriend dragged along for the ride or you mistakenly showed up for the Aerosmith show at Van Andel (sorry, that’s August 4).
Aside from the hits, the New Kids also offered up a few snippets of cover tunes, “Just a Friend” and the crowd-led “Feel the Vibrations.” McIntyre, who spent time on Broadway, did a theatrical rendition of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” The band’s latest single, “The Remix,” even got a strong response – proving not all fans attended solely to relive middle school – some have kept up with the new discs.
NKOTB’s frequent stage banter also propelled the performance. For one portion of the show the guys gathered around a piano and chit-chatted while sipping a couple beers. Sure, it may have been semi-rehearsed prattle, but this is pop music, not an artsy Velvet Underground show. It’s all in fun, and that’s what was happening. The New Kids get to relive their glory days and so do their fans. Anything less would’ve been pointless.
Photos by Nicole Rico