By: Kevin Rolfe
If you had told me thirty years ago that I would be covering a New Kids on the Block concert I would never have believed you. For starters, I don’t think thirty years younger me would have known that I’d be covering concerts at all. He also probably thought there was no way he’d ever be caught going to an NKOTB show. What boy in his early teens is going to like a group that is taking all the attention away from him and his other guy friends. Now if you told me thirty years ago that I would be going to a New Kids on the Block concert and liking it, well I would have just called you a liar. But I went to the NKOTB Mixtape Tour at Vivint Arena and left extremely entertained! There is something to be said about putting on a quality show. The New Kids invited some artists from their hay day to join them on the tour. Salt-N-Pepa, Naughty By Nature, Tiffany and Debbie Gibson filled out the Mixtape Tour lineup. The combination of these 80s superstars filled the evening with nostalgia and a really good time.
The New Kids took the mixtape idea to heart first starting the show with a DJ set. Songs from the 80s played throughout the arena getting the crowd going. A few minutes after the DJ set ended, the lights went out and I was surprised to see the New Kids on the Block being lowered down to the stage. ‘They’re going on first?’ I thought. Usually, the support acts will go on and then the headliner finishes the show. This clearly indicated something different. Ah, mixtape. It all makes sense now.
The setup consisted of a main endstage at one side of the arena that looked like an audio cassette tape. On the other end of the arena was a circular B stage that looked like a CD. After performing songs like “My Favorite Girl” and “You Got It (The Right Stuff)”, NKOTB made their way through the audience towards the B stage. As they walked through the aisles they hugged, sang with, and even took photographs with their adoring fans. The audience was about 90% women and each one that had a New Kid pass by them had the biggest smile on their face. NKOTB split up throughout the arena and were each interacting with fans in their section. I was in Jordan Knight’s section. Don’t be jealous.
As they left the B stage attention immediately moved back to the mainstage as Tiffany was rising from below the stage. The audience roared as she began singing her #1 hit “I Think We’re Alone Now”. The audience sang along. They knew every word. If you were a product of the 80s then it’s impossible to not know this song. It was everywhere. Tiffany sounded great and he looked like she was having a great time on that stage.
As Tiffany was lowered below the stage things shifted back to the B stage where Debbie Gibson had appeared. I’m sure you’re getting the picture. There was never a down moment. As soon as one artist was done, another would appear. Gibson sang a medley of her self penned songs “Out of the Blue”, “Shake Your Love” and “Electric Youth”. Gibson had tons of energy. Her entire medley was choreographed and not once did she seem out of breath. I was really happy for Debbie and Tiffany. It must be awesome to be on this tour. I’m not sure they’d be able to play in a venue this big on their own and yet everyone there was really happy to see them. I don’t mean that in a snarky way at all. I was genuinely happy to see them receiving a lot of love from the audience.
When NKOTB returned to the stage they performed another huge hit, “Please Don’t Go Girl”. Joey McIntyre who sings lead on this song sounded great. It’s been thirty years since this song came out so of course, his voice is more mature. But because his voice has developed he was able to add more to the song. He really played up the drama of the song. Taking breaks at the end, kneeling down and covering his face as the crowd went crazy. I heard a man next to me say “Is he really crying? I think he’s actually crying!”. He wasn’t, but McIntyre was pretty convincing.
While everyone was putting on a really fun show, things were elevated to a higher level when the digital video screens parted and Salt N Pepa walked out. When I heard that Salt N Pepa would be performing at this show I immediately thought, ‘This is why I’m going’. And I was not disappointed. They opened their set with “None of Your Business”. I knew I was right it was going to be my favorite part of the whole show. They continued with “What a Man” and “Let’s Talk About Sex”. They were joined on stage with four male dancers and a DJ. I must admit I was a little disappointed that Spinderella wasn’t with them, but Salt N Pepa was in great form and had everyone there dancing. They added some grit to the show.
As the show continued, NKOTB would reappear to perform songs like “Tonight” or “Cover Girl”. Then they’d give way and allow their guests to return for another set. Tiffany walking through the crowd taking selfies while singing. I was impressed by that. By the way, if an artist is willing to take a selfie with you, have your phone ready. Don’t make them wait for you to get your phone out. There were a few fans who struggled. But Tiffany was cool and hung in as long as she could. Debbie Gibson sang her very first hit “Only in My Dreams” then was joined on stage by Joey McIntyre to sing her ballad “Lost in Your Eyes”. I have to admit they sounded great. But they grasped the high teen drama laced within the song and really played it up. Salt N Pepa was again on point as they appeared on the B stage and sang “Shoop” and later in the show performing “Push it”.
NKOTB’s final guests, Naughty By Nature took the stage with force and didn’t let up until they were done. Treach rose from below the stage sitting on a huge thrown. Vin Rock walked out and got the crowd going with shouts of “You down with OPP?”. Naughty By Nature flew through their set, walking through the crowd and ending up on the B stage singing “Hip Hop Hooray!”. I’m not sure how long they were on stage, but it seemed really fast. They definitely left their mark because people were really into what they were doing. People were shouting out “Yeah you know me!” and waving their hand’s side to side singing “Hey! Ho!”.
New Kids on the Block closed out their set with “Hangin’ Tough” followed by “80s Baby” where all of the other artists return to the stage. I think the thing I liked the most about this show was that no one took themselves too seriously. When you think about it, NKOTB, Tiffany and Debbie Gibson were singing these songs when they were teenagers. Performing these songs in their late forties could easily come across as ridiculous. But it never did. There was a time where these guys wanted to distance themselves from their boy band image or mall appearance fandom. But I think over time they realized that they’re still a draw, they still have a huge fanbase and they can still perform these songs really well. I think if they took a song like “Hangin Tough” too seriously it would have looked a little pathetic. But it’s a catchy song and the crowd in Vivint Arena wanted to hear it. So they had fun with it and performed it. They are all still really talented. But they get it. They mixed having fun with the songs to understanding that there are many in the audience still in love with them. When Donny Wahlberg ran up the aisle near me, I could see forty and fifty year old women returning to their teens and twenties and just gushing over the guy. It was amazing.
Before the show started when I was waiting to take photos I asked some women if they had seen NKOTB before. One had, but the majority hadn’t, stating “We’ve been waiting thirty years for this!”. Later in the show when I was in my seat I had a great view of this group. They were having the time of their lives. What more could you ask for? I thought the NKOTB Mixtape tour was as enjoyable as just about any other Pop show touring today.