Not So New, but Generating Shrieks Still

 

EAST RUTHERFORD , N.J. — How did the vocal cords hold up? That was the most important question hanging in the air at the Izod Center here on Tuesday night. Time can be unkind to the body, especially when its parts have gone unexercised, and after 15 years there was no telling how those delicate instruments had fared.

No, the concern wasn't for the five men onstage — they sounded fine — but for the thousands of youngish women in the audience (who outnumbered men in the crowd by a ratio of several dozen to one). It had been ages since they screamed for New Kids on the Block ; would they have enough in them to prove their continued loyalty?

As if there were really any doubt. The sea of shrieks began promptly when the house lights went down, though it didn't reach a true fever pitch until three songs in, when the New Kids delivered the five syllables that will haunt them for decades to come: “Oh! Oh! Oh-oh-oh!”

As the overgrown boy-banders, all on the north side of 35, eased into “You've Got It (the Right Stuff),” they formed a line at center stage, redeploying the side to side kicks from the song's video 20 years before.

Collective memory is about specifics, after all, and here, at the first American stop on the New Kids on the Block reunion tour, no detail was left unexploited.

Earlier this month the group released “The Block” (Interscope) , an excellent example of album as pretense. Though it made its debut at No. 2 on the Billboard album chart, it was useful mostly as an attention grabber, a short con (album royalties) setting up for the long con (concert tickets, merchandise) .

The fans were primed — many wore vintage New Kids T-shirts, and many others had homemade ones (one of the best: a 1991 mugshot of Donnie Wahlberg with the caption “The Original Bad Boy”) — gleefully showing their age. Strangely, though, the New Kids did not show theirs. They were, by and large, limber and convincing.

All the old charms were there: the soft theatricality of Joey McIntyre , the appealing smugness of Mr. Wahlberg and the largely undiminished thrills of Jordan Knight 's falsetto, especially on “Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” and “I'll Be Loving You (Forever).”

As ever, Danny Wood and Jonathan Knight , Jordan's brother, colored in at the margins, though Jonathan often looked as if he were recalling the steps from a particularly dusty, and unpleasant, section of his memory.

For a group touring primarily on the strength of nostalgia, New Kids on the Block have conspicuously few hits, maybe a dozen at best (intense ones, but still). So their most significant accomplishment on Tuesday was that they managed to keep an entire arena of fans standing for two hours, even through several costume changes; a curiously morbid video montage of artists and friends who have died since the group was last popular; songs from the solo albums of Jordan Knight and Mr. McIntyre; and many more elongating tactics.

But keeping up was tough. At one point, during “Games,” Mr. Wood decided to show off a few breaking moves in an interlude that was easily the most physically demanding spell of the night. (Most of the choreography was gentle, presumably out of deference to aging bodies.)

When he finished, he gave way to Jordan Knight, who began a searing version of “ If You Go Away .” A few moments later, on the huge video screen that hung over the stage, Mr. Wood could be seen behind Mr. Knight, sitting on the stairs at center stage, visibly winded.

The New Kids on the Block tour continues on Friday at the TD BankNorth Garden in Boston and on Saturday at the Borgata Hotel & Casino Event Center in Atlantic City ; nkotb.com .