“Ladies... ladies...” intoned the voice over the TD Garden sound system immediately after the lights went out. The following “... and gentlemen” arrived almost begrudgingly, as if acknowledging the latter group as a mere formality. New Kids on the Block know their audience. They would have to, a quarter-century after storming the hearts and cassette players of a generation of teenage girls. Sunday night’s sold-out show (they perform again Monday night) proved them reasonably good stewards of that adolescent affection.
The show was structured like a boy-band concert for grownups, divided into five “acts,” including an acoustic set and one presenting the singers as a 1970s-style vocal group, complete with matching suits, Motown-style choreography, and passable Delfonics cover. Most of the action took place on a hydraulics-equipped satellite in the center of the floor, and the sound seemed designed to overwhelm, especially on the clangorous “Block Party” and the cascade of loudness that became “Cover Girl.”
But grateful affability and a rapport with their audience were their strongest suits, and it carried them far. The strut of “Games” may have been silly, but it was a strut nonetheless, and they came together with some solid harmonies on the nearly apocalyptic ballad “Survive You.” Better yet was “Remix (I Like The),” its flirtatious danceability helped by a Donnie Wahlberg vocal that sounded like he was on the verge of hoarseness. And Joey McIntyre’s commitment on “Please Don’t Go Girl” was hard to doubt as he dropped to his knees, begging his fans not to leave after 25 years. They didn’t seem likely to.
Boyz II Men spent the bulk of their opening set with that bended-knee attitude, though their harmonies were largely swallowed by the venue, possibly as a result of being augmented by additional vocals on songs like “End Of The Road.” Although the vocals of followup group 98 Degrees were more balanced, their act hadn’t matured as well. Any chance of “Invisible Man” gaining any genuine pathos was undermined by the glad-handing choreography, which was totally at odds with the lyrics, a problem also present in the happy little fingersnaps of “The Hardest Thing.”