New Kids on the Block brings the right stuff, ’90s snacks and chiseled abs to RodeoHouston

New Kids on the Block brings the right stuff, ’90s snacks and chiseled abs to RodeoHouston
New Kids on the Block brings the right stuff, ’90s snacks and chiseled abs to RodeoHouston

“Who goes to a New Kids on the Block show at the rodeo in 2023?” a colleague asked this last week in the days leading up to the boy band’s much-anticipated debut at RodeoHouston on Tuesday, March 7 at NRG Stadium.

The kids at the shows in the late 80s, but now with more money for band merch and even more squirreled away for concession stand wine, that’s who. They re-emerged after washing off decades of grunge and nu-metal to support a 2008 reunion, which continues to roll on unabated, subtlety evolving from a lark into a touring unit with longevity.

“Think of what The Beach Boys must have looked like to us Full house in 1988,” I replied. “I’m quite one of them is even a grandpa now.” (That would be NKOTB’s Danny Wood, who became a New Grandpa On the Block in 2019.)

Welcome to the snarling realization that 1988 was literally 35 years ago.

Tuesday night — the officially unofficial “Ladies Night” for the Rodeo’s 2023 season — New Kids On the Block was greeted by tens of thousands of screaming perpetual teenagers hot from the rodeo vineyard, some with teenage daughters — or gasp — grandchildren in tow to show them what all the fuss is still about Donnie Wahlberg and Joey McIntyre.

One of them was Jennifer Kirik, 43, who drove in from the Houston suburbs on Tuesday with a friend to explore the city and stay at her favorite downtown hotel. Just after 5 p.m., she was on the METROrail heading south to NRG Park in her finest NKOTB shirt, ready to experience the group for the first time since she was in seventh grade, nearly 31 years ago. She is forever and always a Jordan Knight girl.

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“Tonight is all about reliving our childhood,” Kirik giggled as the rail car wound its way past the medical center and into the neon lights and barricades of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

“There’s going to be a lot of middle-aged women in ’90s makeup,” she said, her eyes twinkling with glitter.

Kirik said her parents saw one of the top teen idols, Elvis Presley, decades ago when his life and career were coming to an end. The middle-aged idols on the space-age stage at NRG Stadium thankfully show no signs of severe arterial damage or banana sandwich sweat.

The men of New Kids on the Block, once known the bane of Bill Hicks’ existence, have survived to dance for a few more decades, albeit just a little slower and with more medically prescribed intent. With advances in medical science, today’s teenage heart palpitations may be tomorrow’s lunar casino entertainment. (“Live! Tonight at Aquarius Crater Grand Casino: Justin Bieber and his Family Band!”)

The five-piece band hit the revolving stage just before 9:30 p.m., clad in Gap Band-style black leather cowboy duds, welcoming NKOTB nation back to the “Block Party” and taking advantage of the revolving stage’s five points.

OG bad boy Donnie Wahlberg got the first showcase of the night with “Cover Girl,” stalking the stage with the lead, and if you squinted you’d think Monday night’s headliner Jason Aldean had missed his tour bus and crashed into the stadium overnight. Never underestimate the magic of a middle-aged Wahlberg wiggling his butt and polite abs on a Tuesday night.

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Think “Magic Mike & His Crossfit Buddies” and you have the rough idea. The minimal choreography for “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” hasn’t changed much since the second Reagan administration, because if it’s worked for so long, why change it?

Wahlberg — admittedly my favorite New Kid — called out the group’s last Astrodome visit in 1990 before launching into “Please Don’t Go Girl.” The ingrained East Coast sentimentality and polite dance-school musings that made New Kids such a cultural touchstone still make thousands scream.

The band fanned out through the stadium’s fencing during “Tonight” to get up close and personal with the crowd, posing for selfies on their way to Instagram and giving hugs and accepting sweaty face paint. An old medley of Cyndi Lauper, Bell-Biv Devoe, Whitney Houston, AC/DC and Bon Jovi turned NRG into a chaotic karaoke bar for a few minutes, before Wahlberg toasted the Houston Astros with “Deep In The Heart of Texas” a bold move for a Red Sox fan.

A version of Big & Rich’s “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)” brought back the “Magic Mike” vibes with a cameo from Houston’s own Tio Choko as a chaser.

The exact feelings may be different now, and the registers aren’t as high as they were in 1988. The full-throated screams on Tuesday night weren’t because maybe Joey McIntyre picked you out of a crowd of thousands and took you out for a slice of pepperoni pizza at the food court and a shopping spree at Dillard’s.

That’s because it’s been more than 35 years and we’ve survived being in the same room together again. Hopefully, graying Joey will be down for a Sunday afternoon trip to Target for sheets, a reasonably priced bottle of wine, a foot rub, and a few episodes of The last of us.

— Concert review of Craig Hlavaty

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