New Kids on the Block hang tough with with a hysteria-inducing mix of nostalgia and new material at The Q

by John Soeder / Plain Dealer Pop Music Critic Saturday October 04, 2008, 8:30 AM

REVIEW New Kids on the Block The Q Oct. 3, 2008

That long-rumored Led Zeppelin reunion is a no-go, so it looks as if comeback-of- the-year honors go to New Kids on the Block .

Don't believe it? Apparently, neither can the members of the resurgent boy-band in question.

"I'm speechless right now!" a flabbergasted Donnie Wahlberg said as he and his associates -- brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight , Joey McIntyre and Danny Wood -- basked in an extended standing ovation Friday night at The Q, the latest stop on a triumphant reunion tour.

The arena was packed with arm-waving, hyperventilating, singing-along women in their 20s and 30s. Chances are they had NKOTB posters on their bedroom walls when the Boston quintet ruled the radio and MTV in the late '80s and early '90s.

Many of these fans have careers and husbands and children of their own now, Wahlberg noted. Yet this much was clear: They never really got over their first pop-music crush.

And the Kids were alright. They announced their return with a fresh come-on, "Single," dramatically rising into view from below the stage. Maybe they had been down there in storage?

Actually, since NKTOB disbanded 14 years ago, Jordan Knight and McIntyre have gone on to enjoy moderate success with solo music careers. Wahlberg got into acting. Jonathan Knight found a new calling in real estate. And Wood became a salesman for a charter jet company.

These guys now range in age from mid- to late-30s, although they didn't miss a five-part harmony or a painstakingly choreographed electro-glide step.

They've aged well, particularly Jordan Knight, who still wields a deadly falsetto. During "Baby I Believe in You," the father of two struck a Michael Jackson-worthy pose, with a mega-watt wind machine threatening to blow the unbuttoned shirt off Knight's back. The audience's deafening squeals rivaled anything the Jonas Brothers have elicited lately.

Time has been kind to NKOTB's music, too. Once supremely annoying to virtually anyone besides your kid sister or the average mall rat, "You Got It ( The Right Stuff )," "Tonight," " Cover Girl " and other blasts from the past were less grating than some of us recall. Well, maybe not the ultra-schmaltzy " I'll Be Loving You (Forever)," which found our heroes decked out in matching white suits and shrouded in theatrical fog, like a vision from a Top 40 afterlife.

Still, in retrospect, there's no denying NKOTB was ahead of the curve. The group's slick amalgamation of R&B, hip-hop and dance-club stylings clearly pointed the way for later pop superstars, including ' N Sync and the Backstreet Boys .

NKOTB could've merely coasted on nostalgia, but to its credit, the group regaled us with no fewer than seven tunes off its likable new album, "The Block."

The breezy "Summertime" was a feel-good ode to good times gone by. Slightly more risque themes were broached in other new songs, including "Grown Man." Ditto " Dirty Dancing ," performed atop a small rotating stage toward the rear of the venue.

The only thing missing was bad-boy Wahlberg's old Public Enemy T-shirt, which used to be the most subversive thing about NKOTB.

The two-hour concert culminated with a one-two punch of "Step by Step" and the oddly prophetic "Hangin' Tough." Who knew these old Kids could still give some of today's new kids a run for their money?

SET LIST: "Single," " My Favorite Girl ," "You Got It ( The Right Stuff )," "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)," " Please Don't Go Girl ," "Grown Man," "Games," " If You Go Away ," "2 in the Morning," "Dirty Dancing," "Tonight," "Twisted," "Baby I Believe in You," "Give It to You," " Stay the Same ," "Cover Girl," " I'll Be Loving You (Forever)," "Click Click Click," "Summertime"

ENCORE: "Step by Step," "Hangin' Tough"