New Kids on the Block get the last laugh

To many Generation Xers, New Kids on the Block was a joke 25 years ago. Sure, the boys from Boston made hits – but few people took them seriously as legitimate artists.

So now, 25 years later, the group ought to be an even bigger joke, right? Here you’ve got five guys, all in their 40s (some even in their mid-40s), still going by the name New Kids on the Block, still acting like teenagers, still singing many of the same old songs.

Well, go ahead and laugh.

They clearly don’t care. And these days, the New Kids are too focused on the arenas full of women who continue to screech every time Jordan Knight shows off his abs, to go bonkers for Danny Wood’s breakdancing, to turn their lungs up to 11 when Donnie Wahlberg leaps into the crowd and kisses a fan full on the lips.

All of this happened Wednesday night at Time Warner Cable Arena, in front of a nearly packed house that spent 31/2 hours ogling dudes who haven’t recorded a significant song in more than a decade.

The warmup acts were serviceable: Boyz II Men performed only its biggest hits (though more than one was drowned in pre-recorded backing vocals); then 98 Degrees got temperatures rising (though that seemed more attributable to the presence of hunky brothers Nick and Drew Lachey than the group’s wholly unmemorable tunes).

Still, while the Boyz and the Degrees men struggled to fill 30 minutes apiece, NKOTB strung together a thoughtful, energetic two-hour set that addressed eight of its nine Top 10 singles, largely avoided recently released album “10,” and was dotted with generally pleasing covers, or bits of covers, including everything from the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” to Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.”

Wahlberg is a charismatic, loose and natural leader/hype man, and there were strong solos by Joey McIntyre (“Please Don’t Go Girl”) and Knight (“I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)”). Yet it was the old-school cheeseball showmanship and calculated button-pushing that won over the crowd.

The hip thrusts. The lifted shirts. McIntyre grabbing his crotch and flexing a bicep while hammily covering George Michael’s “Faith.” Wahlberg literally tearing off his tank top during “Cover Girl,” using it to wipe the sweat off his chest and face, then tossing the garment into the crowd.

“They said this s--- was supposed to last two weeks,” Wahlberg yelled at one point. “When you guys were 12 and we were 18. I think some of those so-called experts got their math a little bit wrong!” Cue screaming.

Not everything worked. Fifth man Jonathan Knight wasn’t given much to do. Wahlberg leaned so heavily on shouting “Charlotte!” or “Hey, Charlotte!” or “How you doin’, Charlotte?” to milk a whoop from the crowd that I started to hate the sound of my own city’s name. The group wasted time with costume changes so minor they seemed pointless, and squandered several ponderous minutes basically just dancing around to Icona Pop’s “I Love It.”

But the crowd was large, and the crowd was wild. Yeah, when McIntyre says, “It’s been 25 years! The only way to repay you for the last 25 years is to figure out how to do it for another 25 years” ... it made me laugh.

Then I remembered that he’s up there and I’m down here. And I realize that he’s probably laughing harder than I am.