Nostalgia doesn’t get old, apparently, it just gets more appealing.
Tuesday night, for the third time in less than four years, the New Kids on the Block headlined a show at the Sprint Center. And for the third time in less than four years, the boy-band from Boston comprising five men in their mid-40s drew a crowd in excess of 10,000, a large majority of them women revisiting their girlhoods and adolescence with much gusto and lust.
The New Kids have figured out a formula, one that keeps reaping lucrative results. Tuesday’s show was their fourth Sprint Center show. The first was in November 2008. The opener was Lady Gaga, who was a few years from stardom. Since then, NKOTB has paired itself with other acts who get the nostalgia juicies flowing. In 2011, they co-headlined with the Backstreet Boys. In 2013, the openers were Boyz 2 Men and 98 Degrees. Tuesday night, the openers were Nelly and TLC.
The formula works. Despite the early start (around 7:15 p.m.), by the time Nelly took the stage, a good 90 percent of the 10,000 fans awaited him. His presentation was sparse. Backed by a DJ and supported by four dancers and two sidekick MCs, he plowed through a 40-minute set that featured his biggest hits, of which he has many: “Party People,” “E.I.,” “Air Force Ones,” “Country Grammar,” “Dilemma,” “Ride Wit Me” and “Hot in Herre.”
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The sound was not good during his set: The bass was thunderous and overwhelming at times, and too many of the vocals were washed out by the canned music behind them. Nonetheless, the crowd recognized most of the songs and sang along enthusiastically, especially when ordered to by Nelly and his crew, which was frequently.
TLC followed Nelly. Since the death of Lisa Lopes in 2003, they have been a duo.
“We will always be TLC, and we will never replace Lisa,” Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas vowed during their 35-minute set. On the screens above the stage, they did pay tribute to Lopes with a video montage during “Meant to Be.”
They brought along an MC and six dancers, and they danced through most of the lively set, which was a reminder of how catchy and crafted their best songs are: “What About Your Friends,” their opener; “Baby, Baby, Baby”; “No Scrubs,” which holds up after so many years; and their closer, “Waterfalls,” now more than 20 years old but one of the most enduring pop songs of its era.
The New Kids on the Block hit the stage trotting. Draped in hooded robes, like boxers entering the ring, they were introduced individually, via a prerecorded video, by ring announcer Michael “Get Ready to Rumble” Buffer, who advised the screaming crowd to prepare for some mayhem. And for nearly two hours, that’s what they got.
From the onset of the opener, “Block Party,” through the closer, “Hangin’ Tough,” the Kids were in constant motion, keeping the mood at a near fever pitch. Before the fourth song, “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” was over, streamers, confetti and plumes of fog had been unleashed and the crowd was amped for what would follow: a torrent of hits.
Their music is a homogenized blend of pop, hip-hop and R&B, crafted for mass consumption, built on rock-solid dance hooks or set to satiny love-ballad tempos. It’s custom-made for arenas and large crowds hyped up to dance and sing along.
The stage, set in the middle of the floor, ran from one end of the arena to the other and was surrounded by rows of fans, many of them close enough to reach out and touch their idols. During “Tonight,” all five ventured into the crowd to pose for selfies or exchange an embrace or a high-five. They made good use of the five hydraulic lifts in the middle of the stage, using them as dance platforms.
After “The Whisper/Shout” medley, NKOTB disappeared under the stage to change into formal wear. Via the “change cam,” fans were able to watch them disrobe and dress, which aroused gales of screams and squeals. Donnie Wahlberg held a Royals T-shirt up to the camera, which prompted one of the loudest ovations of the night.
They turned up the beefcake factor later, when Jordan Knight and then Joey McIntyre, the two best vocalists, showed off their bare and buffed abs and chests, during “I Believe in You” and then “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)/Twisted.” It was like being at a huge Chippendales show.
All of the Kids, except Jonathan Knight, got some vocal spotlight. Danny Wood took the lead a couple of times. Wahlberg followed the Knight/McIntyre strip-show with a medley of his own: “I Need You/Lean on Me/Cover Girl.”
That led to a finale that managed to incite even more mania, starting with “Step by Step,” the title track to an album released 25 years ago this month. Before that, the crowd was thanked yet again for keeping the NKOTB flame going for so long. Implicit in the gratitude was the assurance that this wouldn’t be the last time this show would come this way. And why would it be? Sometimes the past is best remembered by reliving it.
Block Party; Crash; My Favorite Girl; You Got It (The Right Stuff); The Whisper/Single/Shout; Let’s Try Again; We Own Tonight; Didn’t I Blow Your Mind/Valentine Girl/If You Go Away/Never Can Say Goodbye/Please Don’t Go, Girl; Remix; Summertime; Dirty Dancing; Just a Friend/Good Vibrations; Tonight; Baby, I Believe in You; Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)/Twisted; I Need You/Lean On Me/Cover Girl; Games; Step by Step; I’ll Be Loving You (Forever); Hangin’ Tough/ We Will Rock You.