New Kids aren't an inch out of step

s this really happening right now?" asked Joey McIntyre , on stage in front of 12,800 screaming fans, last night at the Bell Centre. "The memories come flooding back. Many many memories, so many memories."

You can call 2008 the year boy-bands returned. Not that the genre or phenomenon is back in style - the groups themselves, whom we assumed were safely buried in the ignoble annals of pop history.

Last month, it was the Backstreet Boys . Last night, the clock got turned back even further. New Kids On the Block , whose last album (before their recently-released comeback The Block) came out in 1994, filled the house and, yes, it's true, put on a good show.

Not to a new generation of teeny boppers - to an old one. Women in their 20s and 30s were lined up at the merch tables. They cheered in the stands, like the little girls they once were, reliving the good old days, and songs.

And there were five guys on stage only too ready to oblige. Donnie Wahlberg , Danny Wood , Joey McIntyre , and Jordan and Jonathan Knight are all well into their 30s by now. But they got the old band back together, and have been practicing.

They started with a new song, Single, rising as a pack on an elevated platform at the back of the stage. Shuffling, sliding and stepping as one, their moves were surprisingly tight.

Nostalgia was unleashed with the second and third numbers of the night, My Favorite Girl and You Got It ( The Right Stuff ), off the band's 1988 album Hangin' Tough.

The tracks' retro feel were left intact, including the new jack swing dance beats and tinny synth sounds. The guys' moves were inspired - kicks and spins were executed with enthusiasm and precision.

They slowed things down with Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time), and Valentine Girl , followed by another from '88, Please Don't Go Girl .

Backed by a four-piece band, and with female backup singers and dancers in tow, the "Kids" were slick, managing a delicate balance between not taking themselves too seriously and taking the show itself totally seriously.

When Wahlberg called out to the room - "Montréa-a-a- a-al!!!" - the shrieking reply was very nearly deafening. The entire crowd was on its feet, grinning ear to ear.

Wahlberg, it should be noted, exuded an easy confidence and charisma all night. As for his bandmates, Wood showed impressive breakdancing moves , and Jordan Knight has a particularly strong voice.

And the hits, they kept on coming: Tonight, Baby I Believe In You, Cover Girl , I'll Be Loving You , and the encore one-two punch, Step By Step and Hangin' Tough. Several new songs were slipped in along the way, and they all went over well. Truth be told, on this night, these guys could do no wrong.

British soul-pop starlet Natasha Bedingfield drew a warm reception in the opening slot.

tdunlevy@thegazette.canwest. com