NEW YORK— Donnie Wahlberg might look and act tough, but he's a softie underneath.
The resident bad boy of New Kids on the Block said he has cried tears of joy while performing for thousands of screaming fans on the reunited band's arena tour, which began in Canada last week.
“We've had old banners being held up, new banners being held up, people singing the old songs , partying with the new songs, bras thrown onstage with women flashing us,” Wahlberg said by phone from Toronto. “Husbands holding their wives and singing along to the songs with their wives in their arms ... I don't like to overblow the significance of anything, we're a pop group after all, but there's something really magical that's happening every night. I've been moved onstage on more than one occasion.”
That admission coming from Wahlberg — known for his macho posturing and hip-hop swagger — might surprise the New Kids' hardcore devotees, who wouldn't expect him to weep and then talk openly about it. But Wahlberg said he's matured over the years. Right now, he feels validated by the resurgent fandemonium — after all, it's been a lifetime since the band last performed to crowds like this.
“I'm not some guy that is desperate, you know?” said Wahlberg, an actor whose film credits include “ Righteous Kill ,” “ The Sixth Sense ” and the gory “Saw” flicks. “I didn't, like, need to go and do this to make money and stuff like that. I got a good career. I got plenty of things going on in my life. It's not like I needed this to bail me out of any mess or anything. It's just right. It just felt right. We did it for the right reasons and the reward is to share this with the fans and to see that they're so dialed in.”
Fourteen years after disbanding amid dwindling popularity and burnout, the New Kids — Wahlberg, Danny Wood , Joey McIntyre and brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight — are reclaiming some of the magic from their heyday in the late 1980s and early '90s, when they made teenage girls swoon on a regular basis.
One of the most successful boy bands ever, the New Kids were the prototype for hysteria-inducing groups like the Backstreet Boys , ' N Sync and the Jonas Brothers . Millions of young girls obsessed over the New Kids, persuading their parents to buy them concert tickets, pillowcases, notebooks, lunch boxes, dolls and on and on.
Some of those girls, now in their 20s and 30s, have held on to that merch — and still harbor fond memories of brash Donnie, pretty boy Joey, chiseled Danny and the hair-gelled Knight siblings.
But they're no longer kids. In the years between '94 and '08, the men — now in their 30s — have experienced marriages, divorces, children, and hit-or-miss solo careers. Wahlberg has had a well-received detour into acting. McIntyre had high-profile stints on Broadway in “ Wicked” on Broadway and on TV in “Dancing With the Stars.” Jonathan Knight, who has suffered from crippling panic disorder, chucked showbiz to work in the real estate business. Jordan has pursued a solo career.
The reunion began a year ago after Wahlberg heard music for the song “ Click Click Click” and sent it around to the other guys. That song became the first of 13 tracks on “The Block.”
“It just so happened that the timing was good for all the guys and there were different things going on in our lives that made it work,” said Wahlberg, who recently split from wife Kim. “I mean, I'm going through a breakup of my marriage. I lost my dad. I had a lot to talk about. A lot of emotional stuff that I was going through that really fueled me to want to keep working late hours into the night.”
The band retains a retro vibe on the album with pop songs like “Summertime” and “2 In The Morning,” but gains an updated sound. Among the album's collaborators are Ne-Yo , Akon and the Pussycat Dolls . Since its Sept. 2 release, “The Block” has sold about 139,000 copies. It debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 top albums chart before sliding down the chart.
On their nationwide tour, which includes stops at TD BankNorth Garden in Boston Friday and Sunday, the group's setlist is a mix of material from “The Block” and past hits including “Please Don't Go Girl,” “I'll Be Loving You (Forever)” and “You Got It ( The Right Stuff ).” While the tour is likely to be a cash cow for the group, Wahlberg said they didn't do it for the money.
“We've been asked to do this many times and, quite frankly, I didn't have any interest in doing it any other time because it was never for the right reasons,” he said. “It was always, ‘Hey, how about you go out with the guys and you scoop up all this money and, you know, we'll do a TV special and a tour and you guys can go and rack up all this money.' ... Anybody who's gonna make that pitch to me? They don't know me, they don't understand me and what makes me tick. I don't live for money.”
Wood admitted that reclaiming the spotlight has been one of the major benefits of the reunion.
“I went to this restaurant that I always go to, and they comped me dinner,” said Wood, who lives in Miami. “The manager's like, ‘Thank you for coming. We're glad you came in here.' And I'm like, ‘Dude, I come in here all the time.' ... I know some of the waiters and waitresses, but they just didn't realize until we got back together that I was in the group. So it's kinda cool. .. I'll take it, you know.”