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Concert Reviews:
New Kids and friends spin a magical mixtape night at Little Caesars

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Wednesday, June 19, 2019

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DETROIT -- If any one teen pop sensation of the past three decades has made naysaying critics eat their words, it's New Kids on the Block.

As the Kids have become men they've also grown into one of the most consistently entertaining live acts on the road -- mostly because the Boston-formed quintet, which has sold more than 80 million records worldwide since its 1986 debut album, knows exactly what its fans want, and it delivers. That means the hits, a big production and just enough glimpses of the fortysomething singers' bare abs.

And rest-assured it's the latter that sends the screams, even from the first gen fans, to Richter scale levels.

And New Kids arguably haven't done it any better than with this year's Mixtape Tour, which touched down at a packed Little Caesars Arena on Tuesday night. True to its name, the show rolled smoothly for an uninterrupted two hours and 20 minutes, during with tour guests -- Tiffany (who the group thanked via video for giving them an early career break), Debbie Gibson, Naughty By Nature and a particularly potent Salt-N-Pepa -- weaving in and out of New Kids' segments, resulting in a hits-filled mash-up complete with projected images of cassette cases and 7-inch vinyl labels on the stage.

It was a welcome deep dive into 80s and early 90s nostalgia, nimbly executed and with plenty of bang, sometimes pyrotechnic, for the proverbial buck. Even the most ardent opponent of this stuff back in the day would have a hard time not being swayed by the sheer joy coming both towards and from the stage all night.

It's a New Kids show first and foremost, of course, and the group was in fine, tightly choreographed form and mostly good voice -- particularly Joey McIntyre and Jordan Knight, the latter of whom posted social media messages about being sick earlier in the day. Each had an emotive showcase moment -- McIntyre's "Please Don't Go Girl" and Knight's "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)" -- while Donnie Wahlberg serenaded two (really) young girls on stage during "Cover Girl" and Danny Wood did some brief breakdancing on a satellite stage at the back of the arena floor during "Games."

With no visible live band in sight, New Kids kept an onslaught of hits coming, from the opening "The Way" through "My Favorite Girl," "You Got It (The Right Stuff)," "Remix (I Like The)," "Tonight" and a room-shaking "Hangin' Tough," during which the group sported bedazzled Boston Bruins jerseys and broke into a bit of Queen's "We Will Rock You." It was also joined by the Detroit Lions dance team for a mixtape moment of other group's hits, starting with Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and wrapping with Bon Jovi's "Livin' On a Prayer."

There was plenty of visual sizzle to go with all this, but the show's slickest moment came when New Kids' "Step By Step" morphed into Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It," with the two groups trading places on stage.

Salt-N-Pepa was the best of the rest, the duo still "hot, cool and vicious" during three separate sets, on both stages, with four dancers and hits such as "Shoop" and "Tramp." Naughty By Nature was solid as well, though time has not been good to Tiffany's voice and Gibson -- the only person on stage who actually played an instrument (piano) -- worked best when she didn't have to sing to recorded tracks that were pitched higher than her current register. Her duet with McIntyre on "Lost In Your Eyes" worked well, however, making you crave even more interplay between the Mixtape acts.

The full "cast" did gather for a show-closing romp through "80s Baby," much to the delight of the real 80s youth in the house, and their babies. It was a nice cap for a night of, well, the right stuff, performed in the right way and reinforcing the ideas that these Kids may just have something real going on.

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