Middle-aged New Kids say they're in tip-top shape, age hasn't slowed them down

By Andrea Baillie, The Canadian Press TORONTO - Back in their heyday, the New Kids on the Block were known for some pretty athletic moves. The 1991 video for their monster single "Step by Step" featured band members leaping over drum kits, pumping iron and showcasing extremely flashy footwork.

Seventeen years later, the "kids" have become middle-aged men as they prepare to kick off a North American reunion tour Thursday in Toronto .

But Danny Wood , 39, insists he and his musical cohorts are in tip-top shape and that age has not slowed them down one bit.

"Why is that so hard to believe?" he asked during a recent telephone interview from London. "Three years ago I ran the Miami marathon. You can grow older, but age is really a matter of perception."

"(In the past), we ran around the stage like we were rabbits with uncontrolled energy. Now, we control the energy and it makes us better performers."

Wood - who once dated actress Halle Berry - said he and bandmates Jordan Knight , Jonathan Knight , Joey McIntyre and Donnie Wahlberg are "having fun" and "laughing" during a comeback bid that began in May with an appearance on the "Today" show. That was followed by a lacklustre performance at the MuchMusic Video Awards in June.

They've since honed their dance steps and released a new album, "The Block," featuring the likes of Ne-Yo , Akon and Pussycat Dolls producer/singer Teddy Riley .

Buoyed by the single "Summertime, " it entered the Billboard chart last week at No. 2.

The mid-life reunion tour (which hits Montreal on Saturday and Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver in November) is perhaps an unlikely second go-round for a band that rose to international heights largely on the youthful good looks of its members - especially poster boys Jordan Knight and McIntyre.

Wood says the timing was finally right to get the New Kids on the Block back together. However, he dismisses suggestions that the band was influenced by the recent resurrection of another popular '90s act, the Spice Girls .

"We weren't even discussing doing a tour. We wanted to make a great record first," he said.

"We didn't look at the Spice Girls and say 'Oh we gotta do that.' Our thing is completely different. It was just time for us. We did this based on music first."

The New Kids on the Block formed in Boston in the 1980s, with producer Maurice Starr hoping to repeat the success he'd had with teen group New Edition.

With their sugary brand of pop and choreographed moves, the New Kids generated hits including " I'll Be Loving You (Forever)" and "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind)" and ultimately sold some 71 million records. They were widely acknowledged to have paved the way for subsequent boy bands including ' N Sync and the Backstreet Boys .

When they split in 1994 amid dwindling popularity, the band members went on to a variety of different careers. Wahlberg pursued acting, Jonathan Knight became a real estate developer, while Wood, Jordan Knight and McIntyre each released solo projects .

While they are all excited about the new record, Wood says the band is well aware that fans coming to the reunion shows expect to hear the old hits.

"There's no way we would do this, you know, and not give the fans what they've been waiting for," he said.

"People have gone to concerts like that and I've heard people say 'Well, this person didn't sing this hit or that hit.' We don't want to be that group ... especially after 14 years. We don't want to be the group that didn't play 'Hangin' Tough' or 'You Got It ( The Right Stuff )' or something."

Toronto, Wood said, was chosen as the launch point for the North American leg of the tour because of the fan reaction there.

"Pretty much it's the only city that we're doing three shows in. The demand was there and the fans wanted it. They kind of dictated the start of the tour being there and the three shows."

The only downside to the tour, Wood said, is that he misses his own children (most of the New Kids now have kids of their own).

Still, he's enjoying the ride, adding that he's in the best shape of his life.

Boasted the singer: "Fans are definitely going to see us do things we never did before."