Last Night: New Kids On The Block At American Airlines Center

New Kids on the Block American Airlines Center October 19, 2008

Better Than: I remembered them to be.

"New Kids on the Block had a bunch of hits..." (Brittan Dunham)

When I was five years old, my mom took me to see New Kids on the Block, sparking a never-ending love affair with live music.

Last night, 18 years later, I finally got to return the favor by taking her to witness the reunion that no one thought would ever happen.

I entered the AAC with the familiar giddy excitement of my first concert--but, honestly, very few expectations beyond a fun night of nostalgia and the amusement of watching 40-year-olds who haven’t done much since the early ‘90s try to be a boy band again.

What I got was a killer show that proved NKOTB is still breaking ground. Where they once paved the way for a phenomenon in pop music, they’re now staging a legitimate mid-life comeback in a youth-obsessed industry.

Pop music has become sexier, edgier and more fickle since 1990 when NKOTB set the stage for all the other boy bands that have since come and gone. The Beantown boys were certainly aware of this, performing several songs from their new album The Block with the enthusiasm of Chris Brown and the swagger of seasoned pros.

Dirty dancing on tracks like the appropriately named “Grown Man” could have been awkward if not so impressive, and judging by the deafening, high-pitched roar, the ladies were totally cool with seeing their innocent crushes of yesteryear making suggestive groin movements. The hard work that’s gone into the new music was apparent, but the transition back into the spotlight seemed effortless.

Joey McIntyre’s vocals, which have thankfully matured since he was 15, were powerful even on schmaltzy ballads like his solo “Believe”. Jordan Knight proved he’s still got the falsetto and the abs to rival industry successor Justin Timberlake. The former was especially solid on oldies like “Please Don’t Go Girl” while a high-powered fan/open shirt combo showed off the latter. Donnie Wahlberg was the consummate hype-man, flirting with the crowd, bouncing off the walls and frequently winning the spotlight. Danny Wood and Jonathan Knight fell easily back into the supporting vocal roles they used to play, but were on their game with a vitality that is rarely seen in performers half their age.

They all looked ecstatic to be on stage again, and the effort they put into not sucking thrilled the captive audience.

All that said, grown women did not come out in swarms on a Sunday night to see something that looks exactly like everything else on MTV. We wanted to be reminded of our slap bracelet- and Keds-wearing childhoods, and the guys did not disappoint. They performed every hit single, even busting out the infamous “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” dance and letting the crowd recite the steps on “Step By Step”. Late ‘80s dance moves and fashion were thrown in with the modern at just the right moments, giving everyone a sense of how far we’ve come.

The sentiment was best expressed during a mid-concert set on a small platform in the middle of the crowd.

Joey, wearing his smiley face leather jacket from the old days, asked the crowd, “Can you believe this is happening?!”

No, we couldn't. But we were glad it was.

Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: Jordan. Hands down.

Random Note: I admit it. I wore marble wash jeans and a New Kids shirt last night. While I fully expected to see others reliving the glory days, I couldn’t help but notice that the women who were old enough to really appreciate a concert in 1990 were dressed normal and civilized, while many of those who were too young to remember came looking like Flashdance met “Let’s Get Physical” and had an inbred baby.

By The Way: The Block has hit No. 2 on the charts, has produced three hit singles, and also has offered up a No. 1 video. --Brittan Dunham

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