New Kids prove they have all the right stuff

After a 14-year hiatus, boy band is still hanging tough, wowing fans at first of three T.O. shows

Sep 19, 2008 Ashante Infantry Pop & Jazz Critic

Nobody does cool better than Donnie Wahlberg , with his working-class Boston sensibility and ever-present baseball cap; but there he was on the opening night of New Kids on the Block 's reunion tour acting like an insecure lover.

"I can't hear you, Toronto. I don't know who feels better: you or me? I look good, too? Toronto , how you feeling?" queried the quintet's spokesperson, again and again during the first half of the concert.

Asked every which way but straight on, what he really wanted to know from the audience was: Do you still love us? Did we do good? Are you getting your $39.50-$75 worth?

Yes. Yes. A resounding yes!

After a 14-year hiatus, the boys are back in fine form, straddling the line between the puppy love pushers they used be, and the damn near 40-year-old- men they've become.

The two-hour show was more sedate than their raunchy new album, The Block, augured. There was no grinding on the four female dancers; only one choreographed crotch grab; and Joey McIntyre didn't seem to know what to do with the black bra that was tossed at him (he threw it back into the crowd).

Just as well since the audience, brimming with 20- to 40-year-old women, also included numerous preteen daughters and sons they brought along.

"All you little girls that grew up to be fine young women. Woo! You look good, too," was Wahlberg's tasteful acknowledgment of his heartthrob past and present.

The ensemble took the stage after a fair half-hour set by U.K. singer Natasha Bedingfield and forgoing clichéd memory lane video footage in favour of clichéd walking through backstage hallways video footage.

They rose from beneath the stage clad in all black with hints of pink singing "Single," one of the better tracks from The Block, and showing off slick choreography, with lots of slow-mo and hip-hop accents.
Throughout the night they alternated new tunes with older hits such as"My Favourite Girl" and "You Got It ( The Right Stuff )."

McIntyre and Jordan Knight 's falsettos are ever compelling; as is Wahlberg's tenor and rhymes. Jonathan Knight gave awesome backup and Wood did a really neat breakdance routine.

They performed on a spare two-level stage, with the musicians partially hidden. One downside of the show had to do with staging: why weren't the dancers or musicians utilized between segments in lieu of leaving the stage dark
and quiet for more than a minute during transitions?

On the upside was a thrilling moment when the group made their way to the floor seats and performed a handful of songs on a circular rotating stage with McIntyre and Jordan Knight taking turns on piano.

Another faux pas was the solo showcases by Knight, McIntyre and Wahlberg toward the end. There were some cheers, but that was just Canadian charity and beer.

Wahlberg has said it himself: the magic of NKOTB is in the group. That's what sold more than 71 million records and that's why there are enough fans in Toronto for another Air Canada Centre show tonight and one on Sunday.

They should stick to what they do best.