New Kids on the Block unwrap the Package Tour
The New Kids on the Block cluster around a piano on the Orpheum Theatre stage.
It is late March and they are rehearsing the harmony parts for a new song they’ll be performing later in the evening at the release party for their new album, “10.”
The show is a miniature preview of sorts for their current arena tour, a boy band extravaganza — dubbed The Package — featuring openers Boyz II Men and the recently reunited 98 Degrees, which comes to the TD Garden Sunday and Monday. (NKOTB was also slated to participate in the Boston Strong benefit concert Thursday night at the arena.)
After soundcheck, hanging in a green room backstage, the five men — Donnie Wahlberg, 43; Jonathan Knight, 44; Jordan Knight, 43; Danny Wood, 44; and Joey McIntyre, 40 — display a different kind of harmony.
The Boston-bred quintet has an easygoing dynamic. Sometimes they apologize for interrupting each other, sometimes they excitedly finish each other’s sentences. The elder Knight often comes in for ribbing. Wahlberg is the emphatic leader, but mindful of giving the others time to speak. They are still counting their blessings and thanking their exceedingly loyal fan base that a reunion launched in 2008 only seems to be gaining momentum.
“Happy doesn’t do it for me,” says Wood, now a Florida resident, about the group’s current level of contentment. “Five years later to still be doing this and have a new record and the tour, and with Boyz II Men especially, it’s pretty awesome.”
When asked if they ever worry the other shoe will drop and the fans will stop coming, McIntyre admits with a laugh “[Expletive] yeah, every time you put a tour together. No question. We never take this for granted and that’s what makes it so sweet when you get the call: ‘Let’s do another Boston [show]’ and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, we keep getting chances!’ ” (It is McIntyre who is simultaneously chagrined and proud to have coined the tour’s cheeky name.)
Many groups in their position would be satisfied at having reestablished themselves as a touring attraction and not bothered with releasing new music, especially since they all have other obligations, most notably Wahlberg’s commitment to the CBS cop drama “Blue Bloods.” McIntyre is also at work on a one-man show he hopes to take to Broadway.
But NKOTB is a fan-driven enterprise, and they decided to give the people what they claimed they wanted: new music.
“They wanted to get reinvigorated and so did we,” says Wahlberg of the fans, with whom the group held a series of “town hall meetings” last year. “The fans were like ‘Give me a new freaking album.’ And we need some new material to play in shows.”
They hired A&R pro Aimee Nadeau — an NKOTB superfan whom Wahlberg remembers sitting in front of his house in Braintree as a teen — to help them find songs. They then spent 13 weekends flying back and forth to LA (save for McIntyre, who lives there full-time) to record “10” — so named because it’s the group’s 10th release in the US. if you include the Christmas and hits compilations.
Produced by Danish songwriting-production team Deekay, the album combines a familiar mix of ballads and dance tracks, pushes the group in a slightly more mature direction, and features some of their strongest vocal performances to date.
“We used to call [producer] Lars [Jensen] the vocal Nazi because he would just be like, ‘OK, one more time. OK, two more just like that,’ ” says Nadeau, who has done A&R work with everyone from Lady Gaga to Michael Bolton. “He would just keep exercising their voices and making them sing it over and over until they got the right take.”
The album was preceded by the kicky single “Remix (I Like The)” which taps into the retro-soul sensibility of the last few years. In a fair world, that song and a few others would find a home behind Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake on pop radio but, Wahlberg says with a laugh, “The flip side of that is we had some of the biggest hits in history that, in a fair world, maybe shouldn’t have been. I’m just saying, some of our hits were a little dicey in the past, and it all balances out.”
Which is the watchword for the tour as well.
“We try to find a happy balance between doing stuff that keeps it fun and exciting for us but honoring what we came from,” says Wahlberg. “That’s what people want to see. It is what it is. I don’t like ‘The Right Stuff’ very much but there’s nothing I like doing more than performing it in concert; it’s incredible. When we go in the Boston Garden, we better do the hits and we better do them big or else people are going to throw rocks at us. We’re not going to get all artsy and just do a whole concert of new songs,” says Wahlberg. “They’d throw our dolls back at us,” adds Jordan with a laugh.