Still Hangin' Tough: New Kids deliver knockout at Palace

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
Donnie Wahlberg (left) and Joey McIntyre (right) of New Kids on the Block perform Friday at the Palace.

One Direction fans can rest easy. If the group wants to stick around for the next 20 or 30 years, it need only follow the blueprint laid out by New Kids on the Block.

The New Kids brought their Main Event tour to the Palace of Auburn Hills Friday night, and put on a massively, ridiculously entertaining show for roughly 13,000 screaming fans. It was both highly choreographed and playful, air tight and loose as the group – coming up on the 30th anniversary of its debut album – has as good an understanding of why it is around as any artist working today. It's the fans, silly, and the New Kids worked tirelessly to deliver those fans a good time, a memorable show and an experience that will keep them coming back.

Those fans came out in large groups, girls-night-out trips designed to relive their middle school years when they had Joey McIntyre on their pillow cases and longed to take him to prom. Those fans are now in their 30s and 40s, are married (or divorced), but a teenage crush never dies. The New Kids know they're in the nostalgia business, and it's that understanding of their role in their fans' universe that allows them turn that into a positive for both them and their audience.

That understanding is at the center of what makes their show work so well. It's not the songs, although there are plenty of catchy ones – even more than you remember (bet you forgot about "Tonight!") – in the group's repertoire. And it's not the production, although the slick show on the in-the-round stage, filled with multiple confetti blasts, streamer explosions and sparks showers, is dazzling to watch.

Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block performs Friday night at the Palace.

Moreover, it's the hard work the Kids inject into the show, and the extra mile given to old-school flare and showmanship. (Detroit was referred to as Motown throughout the show, as in "how you doing, Motown?" and the group's appreciation for Motown and the way its acts entertained crowds was evident in its rigorous stage show.) They're not milking it; the New Kids are a blue collar act, and they're arguably working harder now on stage than they were when they first played the Palace back in 1989.

There are five New Kids, and where Jordan Knight was once seen as the frontman of the group, the key to the group is the democracy between Knight, Joey McIntyre ("the cute one") and Donnie Wahlberg ("the bad boy"). (Danny Wood and Jonathan Knight play their parts, but they're utility guys and don't do any of the heavy lifting; on Friday, Jon Knight's energy was flagging, his hip thrusts barely registering.)

Jordan Knight, McIntyre and Wahlberg all got solo time in the spotlight on Friday, and while Knight and McIntyre focused on showing off their chiseled chests (Jordan's use of wind machines rivals Mariah Carey's), it was Wahlberg who stole the show, singing "Cover Girl" to a pair of pre-teen girls in the audience while two disco balls spun above the stage. (Watching New Kids now, it's surprising how elemental Wahlberg is to the group's success.)

There were plenty of big moments – many of which took place on the hydraulic lifts at the center of the stage, which rose and fell in step with the Kids' choreography – but it was the tiny moments in between that made the show. There was Wahlberg helping himself to a fan's beer. There was the "Change Cam," a live camera set up in the Kids' quick change room, allowing for a playful peek as they switched outfits in between sets. There was the group, standing around a piano, goofing off and singing a few bars of "It's So Cold in the D." There was Jonathan Knight, playing around with his brother and Wahlberg and pretending to karate chop their heads off while McIntyre was on the other side of the stage addressing the crowd. And there was Wahlberg helping himself to another fan's beer. (Hey Donnie – add a six-pack of Bud to your rider, pal!) The New Kids seemed to genuinely enjoy one another and the act of performing, whether or not the spotlight was on them at any given time, and that enthusiasm was contagious.

New Kids on the Block perform Friday night at the Palace.

Aside from the group's hits – "(You Got It) The Right Stuff," "I'll Be Loving You Forever," "Step By Step" and plenty more – there were other familiar songs mixed in, including the Isley Brothers' "Shout," Biz Markie's "Just a Friend," Marky Mark's "Good Vibrations" and Dr. Dre's "Still D.R.E.," adding to the mixtape-style party atmosphere of the evening. At the end of the show, Dropkick Murphys' "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" segued into "Hangin' Tough" which segued into Queen's "We Will Rock You" in a way that seamlessly linked all three songs.

Rapper Nelly performs Friday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

There was a point in the show when the New Kids made their way out into the crowd and sang directly to fans. It was an up-close-and-personal moment, and for once the fan selfies that resulted didn't feel gratuitous. They felt like teenage dreams coming true.

The Main Event paired New Kids with a pair of high profile openers in TLC and Nelly. Both came armed with arsenals of hits but have slowed considerably since their respective peaks.

Nelly came off sounding gravelly, like he hadn't slept (or cleared his throat) in three days, and TLC, while well intentioned, still seems directionless 13 years after the death of Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes. The addition of the two artists made for a strong lineup, but there was no contesting the headliners of this Main Event title bout.

Rozanda "Chilli" Thomas performs with TLC Friday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.