Make no mistake: The New Kids on the Block are still hangin' tough.
Their limbs, on the other hand, are now taking things step by step.
"Oh, God, the bodyaches!" says New Kid Jonathan Knight, describing the main difference he's feeling on the band's current tour, versus the seminal boy band's late '80s-early '90s heyday. The New Kids' after parties were once every bit as lively as their energetic, highly choreographed stage show. "Now, it's funny," Knight says, "after the shows, we're all in the dressing room icing down our feet."
Knight is on the phone from Sacramento, Calif., 15 shows into the group's reunion tour, which visits The Palace of Auburn Hills on Saturday. The tour is the group's first outing since 1994.
In the years since the breakup, various offers have been made to reunite Knight, his brother, Jordan, Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood and Joey McIntyre, multi-platinum-selling teen sensations whose likenesses graced everything from dolls to oversize buttons to pillowcases -- at a time when *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys were but a twinkle in a marketing executive's eye. But none of those deals felt quite right to the group.
For years, Knight was the main holdout. He was the first one to leave the group in 1994, and revealed after the split that he suffered from panic attacks during the height of New Kids-mania. Unlike most of his fellow New Kids, Knight largely left the entertainment business behind after the breakup, settling into a relatively low-key life as a real estate developer near his hometown of Boston.
He would occasionally mention a reunion to his brother Jordan, who continued to make music and to tour, even opening up for *NSYNC in a cosmic bit of teen-pop regeneration. But nothing came to fruition until summer 2007, when Jordan called Knight. "I was at home, and he called me, and he said, 'You'll never believe who I'm in the car with' -- and then Donnie gets on the phone," Knight says. "We've all seen each other off and on through the years, but Donnie, I hadn't talked to Donnie in, like, 14 years. It was weird."
Knight -- the oldest New Kid, he turns 40 next month -- says reunion plans grew organically from there. The group wasn't beholden to any record company or management team and began to plant seeds for a reunion album and tour. They hit the studio, crafting the songs that would become "The Block," the grown-man R&B album that debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's albums chart last month. And they talked about doing a small tour of clubs and theaters, performing for 3,000-5,000 people a night, but as unexpected fan demand came flooding in, the tour ballooned to arenas.
Knight himself was as surprised as anyone. "At this time last year, I was in my office back in Boston, working on a huge condo project. A year later, I never thought I would leave all that behind and be out there riding around the country on a tour bus."
On the two-and-a-half-month North American trek -- a three-week European tour will follow in 2009 -- the two Knight brothers are sharing a bus, as are Wahlberg and Wood. McIntyre has his own bus, which he rides along with his family, who is joining him on the road.
And this time around, life is sweet. "The buses have come a long way," Knight is pleased to report, and says he's never far from the comforts of the Internet or satellite television.
After concerts, the group usually sits down and enjoys a meal together, while aiming to keep things, as Knight says, "as serene as possible."
Meeting fans who are wearing the same New Kids merchandise they were wearing when coming to concerts during their middle-school years is "awesome," Knight says. "A lot of girls are bringing pictures of themselves with us from 20 years ago. They hold them up, I look at how young I looked and how young they looked, and it's just the best feeling.
"Most of the fans say they feel like teenagers again, and this whole experience brings me right back to being 18, 19, 20, 21," Knight says.
He laughs. "It's not a bad way to spend a midlife crisis."
You can reach Adam Graham at (313) 222-2284 or firstname.lastname@example.org .