New Kids on the Block—or NKOTB, the edgier, more grown-up acronym that pulls double duty by saving the former boy band a lot of marquee space—haven’t truly been new for more than 25 years. The average age of the five Boston-bred guys who owned the pop charts in the early ’90s—earning more than Michael Jackson and Madonna and leaving thousands of swooning teens in the wake of their artfully ripped jeans and gravity-defying urban pompadours—is now nearly 44.
And yet over the past five years, the tight-knit group—brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight, Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood and Joey McIntyre—have been staging a comeback, re-establishing the pop quintet as a global phenomenon. Hot off a two-month, 10-country European tour and their sixth annual theme cruise (more on that shortly), the erstwhile Kids are landing at the Axis at Planet Hollywood on July 10 for a four-night run that will also mark their only North American performances in 2014.
“We didn’t think we’d tour in the States this year,” says McIntyre, the youngest of the group, whose angelic 15-year-old falsetto helped launch the 1988 ballad “Please Don’t Go, Girl” as the band’s first hit single. “But the Axis is an amazing venue, the timing was right, and it helps us keep up the relationship with our fans.”
He’s not just paying lip service. The dates in Vegas will include not only nightly shows, but also daytime pool parties and late-night after-parties at which fans will be able to hang with NKOTB in a more casual setting. “There’s no velvet rope in our world,” McIntyre says. “It’ll be light years away from the stock after-parties with the VIP section where the stars just peek out and wave.” (In a press release for the gig, Wahlberg promised that the band would “be up all day and all night with our fans.”) If the band’s six cruise outings—during which they’re literally trapped on a boat with hundreds of strangers for days on end, performing and partying and leaping into pools fully clothed—are any indication, these guys aren’t shy about getting up close and personal with what they like to call “Block Nation,” a legion of fans largely comprised of women who came of age wearing out their cassette tapes of Hangin’ Tough and Step by Step. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should out myself as one of these women. I even owned a 1990 edition Donnie concert doll. Let’s move on.)
“The fans have known us for so long,” McIntyre says. “Onstage we get to be the stars, but the heart and soul of Block Nation are girls who were there for us back in the day.”
Indeed, even though they’ve released two albums since their heyday—2008’s The Block and 2013’s 10, which both debuted on the Billboard 200 Top 10—the band has no hang-ups about performing their ’80s and ’90s hits. “It absolutely never gets old to sing the songs,” McIntyre says. “And people go crazy when they hear them.” He cites Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones as inspirations because they appeal to generation after generation. “Part of it is the music,” he says. “But a lot of it is just how much fun they have. Onstage we feel young and it feels current. We want to keep that going.”
One thing the Kids definitely have going for them, longevity-wise, is a friendship that has lasted more than three decades, ever since McIntyre was first brought to the group by producer Maurice Starr to replace early New Kids dropout Mark Wahlberg. Since 2008 they’ve been touring and cruising every year, and McIntyre says the band members relish the time they get to spend together.
Which begs the question: Could the stint at Axis lead to a longer run, or even a Strip residency? Speaking for the band, McIntyre hopes so. “It does feel a little bit like an audition,” he says. “But every time we perform, we’re out to prove ourselves. We’ve got to keep that fever pitch, take it to another level. And that’s definitely what we want to do in Vegas.”
8 p.m. July 10-13 at Axis at Planet Hollywood, $37.50 and up, 702-777-6737, PlanetHollywoodResort.com.