Concert review: New Kids on the Block goes for nostalgia with the help of En Vogue, Salt-N-Pepa and Rick Astley

Fourteen years after reuniting, the New Kids on the Block continue to surprise. And they did once again Tuesday at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center for a crowd of about 10,500.

Now in their early 50s, save for 49-year-old baby of the group Joey McIntyre, the New Kids have used about three years’ worth of boy band success as the base for a series of consistently entertaining live tours. The current outing, dubbed the Mixtape Tour, is their ninth since 2008 and they also host a wildly popular annual cruise that returns to action in October.

As they did last time we saw them in 2019, NKOTB upended the traditional role of an opening act and worked mini sets from Salt-N-Pepa, En Vogue and Rick Astley into their own show, turning it into a non-stop late ’80s/early ’90s nostalgia trip that ran well over two hours straight.

They opened with a seven-song set with both old favorites (“You Got It (The Right Stuff),” “Cover Girl”) and reunion-era songs that weren’t radio hits but have become familiar to the group’s loyal fan base (“Dirty Dancing,” “Summertime”). By the time they got to “The Whisper,” the guys were making their way through the crowd to a second stage near the back of the arena floor.

From there, we got the first appearances from En Vogue (“My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It),” “Free Your Mind”) and Rick Astley (“Together Forever,” “It Would Take a Strong Strong Man”). Both acts, along with Salt-N-Pepa, each returned several more times throughout the show and focused on their biggest singles, including En Vogue joining SNP for their smash joint hit “Whatta Man.”

The New Kids worked in a short DJ set with remixes, mashups and samples (including Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mac” and Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”). Later, they led the audience in a singalong of old hits like Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and Bel Biv DeVoe’s “Poison.” After the crowd screamed their way through Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” the cameras focused on Donnie Wahlberg’s grinning mug. And then the arena got Rickrolled in real life when the 56-year-old Astley came out to sing “Never Gonna Give You Up” with the song’s iconic music video playing on the screen behind him. (The New Kids briefly lingered behind him, acting as backup dancers.)

A big part of what makes New Kids shows such fun is that the guys absolutely do not take themselves seriously. They keep the mood light, frothy and celebratory. They bump and grind like they’re auditioning for roles in the next “Magic Mike” sequel. And, yes, once again they had a camera feed from their changing room that gave the almost entirely female crowd the chance to ogle their waxed chests and bulging muscles.

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