Three decades ago, what a group like the New Kids on the Block could have counted on three decades into its career, if it even lasted that long, was a sporadic concert schedule of C-grade county fairs and oldies tours fulfilled by maybe one or two original members alongside a handful of next-generation nobodies. But the music and nostalgia industries have changed in the past 30 years, and the Boston boy band spent Saturday night headlining Fenway Park toward the end of a 47-show arena tour featuring the only lineup that’s existed since its 1986 debut.
Time hasn’t quelled their fans’ ardor; certainly a downpour that necessitated clearing the field for 45 minutes wasn’t going to have a noticeable impact. And if their songs have never quite revealed themselves as genuinely enduring pop classics, they were somebody’s idea of a good time way back when, and the New Kids performed in precisely that spirit. Much of “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” simply milked the moment, down to the self-aware goofiness of the song’s signature rodeo shuffle, but it was good-natured, not desperate.
That made all the difference. There’s never been anything particularly distinctive about either their harmonies or their mix of voices — both were simply five guys singing — and what choreography there was seemed designed to minimize dancing. But the New Kids were spirited enough to boost material like the soft but thumping club jam “One More Night,” the whoosh of “The Whisper,” and the new jack swing clatter of “Games” beyond the realm of guilty pleasure, if just barely.
Even so, the decades that have passed didn’t go unnoticed, as “Be My Girl,” “Cover Girl,” and plenty of others written as expressions of puppy love to be explicitly sung by teenagers didn’t work, vocally or thematically, coming from the mouths of fortysomething dads. “Please Don’t Go Girl” seemed to acknowledge the issue by bringing out Joey McIntyre’s 9-year-old son to both comfort his dramatically distraught father and aid in his plea to Girl.
But the tag team of McIntyre’s clear but forceful tenor and Donnie Wahlberg’s strained gruffness made “Remix (I Like The)” a tough, grownup highlight, and the group concluded with the confetti and fireworks of “Hangin’ Tough,” which was as dumb and hard-hitting as ever. It was also hard to resist.
Boyz II Men opened in the soft rain while the crowd was still fording the interminable lines to get into Fenway. The creamy harmonies of “End of the Road” and “One Sweet Day” (with the audience performing Mariah Carey’s part) became murky with a full band behind them, though a cappella numbers like “In the Still of the Night” were clear and terrific. Paula Abdul’s weather-truncated set featured no visible musicians, but then, there were maybe no visible vocals, either. Lip-synched or live, it didn’t sound like a human voice singing hits like “The Way That You Love Me” or the lush “Rush Rush,” but Abdul nonetheless served notice that she remains a formidable choreographer and dancer.
New Kids On The Block
With Boyz II Men and Paula Abdul
At Fenway Park, Saturday, July 8Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.