Every couple of years New Kids On The Block sets out on a North American tour. Yes, they’re still together. If you’re not an 80’s kid and have no idea who I’m talking about, here’s a quick run-down. Jordan Knight, Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg, and Danny Wood are five guys from Boston who have been singing, dancing, and performing for fans worldwide for 30 years. At the height of their fame in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the term ‘boy band’ hadn’t even made its way into our cultural lexicon yet.
What originally was supposed to be one show for me this tour, mysteriously turned into three. That’s what happens when you have Blockhead buddies who convince you to go for just one more show. I saw shows in Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and Chicago and covered all the bases with seats from front row to the balcony. Every show was a full concert experience with lights, a giant screen with moving graphics, and confetti, lots and lots of confetti.
Lights and confetti are a New Kids concert staple, but every tour brings something different. Called the MixTape Tour, this show was a call back to the mix tape days of the 80’s when music fans sat hunched over their boom boxes recording a mix of their favorite songs on a cassette tape. Then the 90’s hit and CD’s became the new thing. The show included a nod to both, so while the main stage featured images of cassette tapes and boom boxes, the B stage looked like a CD. Modern technology wasn’t left out, though. The show opened with a Siri-like voice stating she could not give directions to Jordan Knight’s bedroom but could provide directions to the MixTape Tour.
The show featured an impressive line-up of performers from back in the day. Much like an actual mix tape, NKOTB swapped stage time with each featured act who returned throughout the show with another song or set list in between the guys’ performances. Eighties teen pop star, Tiffany, took the stage twice with hits like “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “All This Time”. Debbie Gibson, also an 80’s pop star, sang fan favorites like “Electric Youth” and “Shake Your Love”. She also returned later to sing “Lost In Your Eyes’ as a duet with Joey McIntyre. Rounding out the 80’s and 90’s was Salt N Pepa who took the stage more than once with an impressive list of their own hits like “Push It”, “Shoop”, and “Whatta Man”. Also representing the 90’s, Naughty By Nature and their mascot Slugga made appearances with “O.P.P” and “Hip Hop Hurray”.
It wouldn’t be an NKOTB show without the usual hits. So, they covered all the old school fan favorites like “The Right Stuff”, “Please Don’t Girl”, and “Step By Step”. “Cover Girl” was still on the list too and Donnie sang to two young fans on stage like he’s done every show for thirty years. Then there was “Hangin’ Tough”, their most popular hit from back then. It was a full crowd participation experience as thousands of people waved their hands back and forth in time with the band, screaming out every lyric in unison surrounded by more confetti.
Every New Kids tour has been a good mix of old and new. The guys have been making new music since they got back together in 2008 and the show included songs from the last ten years. Blockheads know every word to those songs too. This show opened with one of their newest songs, “The Way”, from the 30th anniversary edition of their Hangin Tough’ album. Then there were other Blockhead favorites like “Dirty Dancing”, “Block Party”, and “Remix”. The newest fan favorite is their homage to boy bands called “Boys In The Band”, which they came out into the crowd to sing. The last song of every show has always been “Hangin’ Tough”. This tour though, they came back out for an encore song, “80’s Baby”, that they recorded and performed with all the MixTape acts.
In a lot of ways, a New Kids concert is not much different than back in the day. There are still a lot of screaming fans, mostly female, who know every word to every song and are likely wearing an NKOTB t-shirt. The only difference is we’re a lot older now and probably grabbing a beer on the way to our seats. Other articles may make snarky quips about soccer moms or infer we’re fending off a mid-life crisis. That would imply we’re just a bunch of crazy fans who have crushes on cute boys and incapable of critical thought, which is untrue.
This is why I like this show: Culturally, we’re in a tumultuous, confusing time of change and it’s human nature to look for an anchor in things that used to bring us comfort. This show has its finger on the pulse of that. It’s a creative representation of that liminal space between old and new. The nostalgic stuff is great because it’s a part of who we are, and we don’t want to forget it. However, we can’t stay there because the new has good stuff too that makes the old that much better. Did I just use a New Kids On The Block concert as a metaphor for change? Yes, I did. What can I say, I’m a mental health counselor. I’m in the business of change. To be fair, we also still have crushes on cute boys. However, that shouldn’t diminish the fact that it’s an entertaining show by performers with legitimate talent.
The transition from being a young fan to an adult fan has been surreal. I don’t need my parents’ permission or money to go to a New Kids concert now. The not-so-cool thing is that I’m also a professional adult with a mortgage. Now my wallet and responsibilities have replaced my parents telling me what to do. So, with that, I think my MixTape tour experience has officially come to a close. It was a wild run. Then again, the tour isn’t over yet, so maybe just one more?
— Donnie Wahlberg (@DonnieWahlberg) June 6, 2019