New Kids on the Block began their first of two shows at the Allstate Arena on Thursday night with a dramatic short film announcing the starring cast. After 29 years of touring through Chicago, Donnie Wahlberg, Joey McIntyre, Danny Wood and Jordan and Jonathan Knight aren’t “new” anymore, but the film still worked to set the mood for the night’s action-packed feature.
By three songs in, they had fired off several confetti guns, a series of fireworks and flame towers, and drew out surround-sound screaming from the crowd that had collectively rewound to 1988 when New Kids found breakthrough success with “Hangin’ Tough.” Without the domino of cellphones around the arena, you might forget what year it was. Almost.
The five members looked fresh as ever, nailing all the familiar choreography and crotch grabs (Danny Wood even dusting off his break dancing skills at nearly 50 years of age). But hits like “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” and “Cover Girl” came off like retro blunders, particularly in comparison to the band’s newer material like “One More Night” (off their latest 2017 EP, “Thankful”).
While many people will (rightfully) wax about the gold that was ‘90s R&B, the technological tool belt for mixing and producing beats has come so far in the past three decades — perhaps why the band inexplicably rushed through one huge medley of their oldest material in the second half of the set, including a very odd placement of holiday music from their “Merry, Merry Christmas” album.
Having a live band helped New Kids by presenting a larger wall of sound. And where they lacked in proficiency (McIntyre and Jonathan Knight appeared to have in-ear and mic problems), they made up for with entertainment, running around on two well-placed thrust stages and changing in front of a costume “change cam” backstage.
“We’re here tonight to bring the happy back to the world,” said Wahlberg in a brief moment of politicizing, and it’s hard to not engage when the band is having as much fun as the audience.
The Total Package Tour began with an on-point set from Philadelphia harmonizers Boyz II Men. Hits like “I’ll Make Love to You” and “On Bended Knee” felt like a menagerie of church spirituals, Disney soundtracks and a score for “The Bachelor” (they even handed out roses), while a tribute set of Lenny Kravitz covers was a welcome surprise.
What was missing was the anticipated third act, Paula Abdul. An undisclosed “temporary injury” has sidelined her since earlier this week — a shame considering the “Straight Up” singer hasn’t toured in more than 20 years. There’s no word yet if she will be able to perform Friday night, but signs at the Allstate Arena instruct anyone not wishing to attend to visit the box office.
One More Night (sampling Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”)
My Favorite Girl
You Got It (The Right Stuff)
Remix (I Like The)
Games (sampling Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It”)
Interlude: DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win”
The Whisper/Shout (cover of The Isley Brothers)
Stop It Girl
Be My Girl
I Wanna Be Loved By You
Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time (cover of The Delphonics)
Call It What You Want
You Got the Flavor
Never Let You Go
If You Go Away
Merry, Merry Christmas
This One’s for the Children
Still Sounds Good
Hard (Not Luvin U)
Please Don’t Go Girl
Step By Step/Push It (cover of Salt N Pepa)
I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)
Hangin’ Tough/We Will Rock You (cover of Queen)