Comeback Kids feel the love

BRAD WHEELER September 22, 2008 New Kids on the Block At Air Canada Centre In Toronto on Friday

Just like that, New Kids on the Block is some sort of fresh again. The Boston boy band, whose five members took their toys and went their separate ways 14 years ago, is new with an album and an ambitious North American tour to hawk it. The thing is, the disc is mostly amiss: The Block is a slick, ham-handed homage to current urban music fashions, stocked with guest appearances and plagued by Auto-Tune vocal manipulations that render the Kids as disguised players in their own inevitable reappearance. On the concert stage, these guys - average age of 38 - can't hide, though. Do they have the right pop-music stuff, or do we write them off?


The Band

As it could only be, the comeback of NKOTB features the original cast . A movie-style trailer - and this is a blockbuster, make no mistake - precedes the singers, who arrive amid plumes of white smoke on a rising platform at the back of the stage. Donnie Wahlberg (a movie actor of some note - Saw III and IV , as well as the brother of film star Mark Wahlberg) breaks rank first, rapping unconvincingly to Single , off the new album. On My Favourite Girl , Jordan Knight reveals an agile falsetto as the group studiously manages its Temptations- style choreography. Four female dancers embellish the sleekly brisk eighties hit You Got It ( The Right Stuff ) . The Kids depart momentarily, returning in suits and fedoras for the smooth Philly soul of Didn't I (Blow Your Mind), to which an audience can only fawningly nod in the affirmative.

The Demand

The concert is the second of an astonishing total of three in Toronto; after a Montreal show on Saturday, the troupe finished off its tour-starting mini-residency here last night. The fans are pink tour-shirt wearers at the turn of their thirties who don't need Wahlberg's constant crowd-baiting to demonstrate their love. Sample text messages publicized on the jumbo screen pre-show include "I'm legal now," and "Donny, I had a crush on you back then, and I've got a crush on you now. Let me backstage!!! ," and "I feel like a giddy 15-year-old girl." Okay, I admit it, I sent that last one.

Boy to Man

Although the Kids are all in shape, some have aged better than others.

Joey McIntyre sings fine and is cuddly enough to justifiably still call himself "Joey," but the muscle-faced Danny Wood is reduced to a single break-dancing exhibition. Little-used Jonathan Knight (brother of Jordan) is as much a stage prop as the piano the Kids share a small secondary stage with on the chipper, pretentiously Penny Lane -style Tonight . Back at the main stage, Jordan Knight's solo turn on Baby, I Believe in You was a deliciously over-the-top sight: His wind-blown white button-down shirt was half teen-dream and half Chippendale hokum, an arousing mix for the 30-going-on- 13 crowd.

Encore Hangin' Tough , a hip-hop Joan Jett thing, saw the Kids garbed in Boston Celtics basketball-wear, arrested in their adolescence.

All in all, it's a polished mixed message, one that's as entertaining and nostalgically silly as the texted notes on the video screen.

"Welland girls still love you," one of them read, a message from fans from a small town about 25 kilometres southwest of Niagara Falls . And why shouldn't they?

New Kids on the Block play

Edmonton, Nov. 18; Calgary,

Nov. 19; and Vancouver, Nov. 21.