In New Kids on the Block’s latest tour – “The Total Package,” which is the boy band-turned-middle-age-man band’s fifth since getting back on the road in 2008 – there are plenty of reminders of its bubblegum days.
Album covers flash up on the giant screen to the rear of the stage showing Jonathan Knight, Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood as bad-hair-having, goofily dressed teenagers: 1986’s self-titled debut, 1988’s “Hangin’ Tough,” 1990’s “Step by Step.”
At one point, the guys emerge from a costume change in so much blue denim (with Wahlberg’s overall shorts easily the most embarrassing of the get-ups) to recite cheesy introductions as their live images are juxtaposed next to school-age pics.
But don’t be fooled: NKOTB is all grown up – and they proved it once again on Thursday night at Spectrum Center.
“Everybody put your hands up, let me see you put your motherf------ hands up!,” rapped designated ringleader and hype man Wahlberg as the band played him out of 1990’s “Games,” prompting an arena-full of (mostly) women to throw theirs in the air like they absolutely did not care.
A couple of songs later, after the group mashed up its 2013 single “The Whisper” with The Isley Brothers’ classic “Shout,” Wahlberg shouted it out again: “Is Charlotte ready to rip the motherf------ roof off this building right now??” Fifteen-thousand-plus fans used the tops of their lungs to indicate that, yes, they were.
But the swear words were actually used sparingly compared with the sexual innuendo. A few more-notable examples:
▪ Toward the end of 1988 hit “You Got It (The Right Stuff),” Wood (who I like to call The Muscle; if you’ve seen him in recent years, you know why) appeared to be making eyes at a woman near the stage and then he just kind of casually reached for a big handful of his pants. Right after that, he and his four groupmates put several exclamation points on the final chorus by balling their fists and thrusting their elbows rearward while making some very aggressive-looking humping motions.
▪ Later, soloing on new single “Hard (Not Luvin’ U),” Knight reached between his legs and squeezed, which – who knows? – maybe he did to help him hit one particularly high note. He then pulled up his tank top to reveal a set of abs a guy close to half his age could be proud of (for those keeping score, close to half of Knight’s age is 24) before the big finish, which saw him drop to his stomach so he could simulate nookie with the stage.
▪ As the audience got an eyeful of the “kids” via cameras simulcasting images onto the big screen during a mid-show costume change, Knight and McIntyre took turns making suggestions with their tongues that were almost certainly confusing to some of the elementary-school-age girls dotting the crowd.
This is not the New Kids on the Block of your youth; but hey, Miley Cyrus ain’t Hannah Montana anymore, either. And I didn’t hear a single person complaining about the adult content.
In fact, all I heard were screams. When they did “Tonight,” and “Cover Girl,” and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind),” and “This One’s for the Children.” When they did “Step by Step,” “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” and “Hangin’ Tough” back-to-back-to-back to end the show.
It’s a long night – more than 30 songs in all, if you count the snippets – but NKOTB just doesn’t do small. There’s confetti. There are streamers. Fireballs. Fireworks. More confetti. More streamers. Still more confetti. By the end of the show, the stage looked like Times Square at 1 a.m. on New Year’s Day.
I still don’t love the sound of Wahlberg’s and McIntyre’s voices when they’re all alone. I still don’t think Wood and Jonathan Knight always pull their weight. I still don’t think being seen at a concert like this is the best thing for your street cred.
But at the same time, it’s hard to wipe a smile off your face for very long during a New Kids show. If cheese is an art, these guys are Picassos.
And Wahlberg has been the star of CBS’s “Blue Bloods” for seven seasons for a reason: because he’s a good actor. He may or may not truly be having the time of his life racing around the stage like a madman and dishing out a thousand high fives and posing for mid-show selfies with fans. But either way, it sure as heck looks like he is.
(Also worth noting: After he belted out “Cover Girl,” a fan in the pit handed him a yellow T-shirt that said “Team Waffle House,” a nod to news reports that he left a $2,000 tip on an $82.60 check at the Waffle House on Queen City Drive late Wednesday. The very last words he said to the crowd on Thursday night? “My Waffle House Crew: I love you!”)
As for the openers rounding out “The Total Package,” Boyz II Men – the Philly foursome-turned-threesome that broke big in 1991 with “Motownphilly” – came off as impressively well-preserved both physically and vocally, while an assessment of Paula Abdul isn’t quite so simple.
The former Laker girl / former “American Idol” judge / former pop star hasn’t put out an album in more than two decades and hasn’t toured in a quarter-century. Now 55 and totally untested in the modern era, no one knew whether she’d be able to hold her own.
Well, the answer is ... sort of.
Her legs look virtually unchanged from the day she did the “Forever Your Girl” video. She handled complicated (and in some cases, acrobatic) choreography without seeming to miss a beat or even break a sweat. But she also lip-synced 90 to 95 percent of her six-song set, which I suppose is a practical choice given how out of breath the dancing must make her.
But it’s a choice that still manages to be – as Donnie Wahlberg might put it – pretty motherf------ disappointing.