New Kids on the Block make nostalgia feel fresh again at Milwaukee stop of 'The Mixtape Tour'

Piet Levy
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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It was a nonstop, two-hour-and-20-minute party for the New Kids on the Block's Milwaukee stop of "The Mixtape Tour" at Fiserv Forum Wednesday.

But Donnie Wahlberg still carved out a minute to relay a very important, and empowering, message. 

"All the so-called experts said a boy band would never last that long," Wahlberg said in an actorly fashion (he is one of the stars of CBS' "Blue Bloods"), but no doubt with complete sincerity. 

"They were wrong. But they weren't wrong about us," he continued. "They were wrong about all of you. They underestimated you and your love and your power. … They thought you were just a bunch of dumb little girls who screamed loud and didn't know nothing. What were they thinking? Didn't they realize you would grow up to be mothers and wives and teachers and lawyers and doctors and congressmen?" 

New Kids on the Block perform at  Fiserv Forum for their Mixtape Tour on Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

And they grew up remaining unapologetic New Kids fans, on Wednesday celebrating the group that inspired them when they were young, some of them bringing daughters of their own. 

In turn, the now 35-year-old boy band showed its gratitude with a show that placed fan service front and center. It's a strategy that's helped the New Kids continue to pack arenas 12 years since their surprising comeback in 2007. 

For "Games" and "Tonight," for instance, they performed closer to the crowd in the back on a secondary stage, a custom arena-show design already employed in the 10-month-old Fiserv Forum by Travis Scott, Twenty One Pilots and others.

But the New Kids also danced on trunks in the middle of an aisle on the floor for one of their newer tunes, "Block Party," with Wahlberg bringing one lucky fan on top of the trunk to dance with him. And they ran up into the lower bowl to sing the end of "Tonight" and much of their new boy-band tribute jam "Boys in the Band (Boy Band Anthem)," where they honor the boy bands that came before them, like the Jackson 5, through new-generation stars like BTS.

But even that wasn't up-close and personal enough for the New Kids, who took part in countless selfies and big bear hugs Wednesday, and found hands to hold and women to serenade throughout the night.

And, yeah, there was lots of hip thrusting and strip teasing, too, which the ladies clearly enjoyed (while the guy sitting next to me on a date largely checked his phone). 

Well-executed choreography — including moves from the "Step by Step" and "Hangin' Tough" music videos from back in the '80s — ensured the New Kids weren't just coasting on nostalgia.

Wahlberg relied heavily on his charm. His voice was flat for "The Right Stuff," but he was quite the hype man Wednesday, kicking the energy into overdrive as he led "Cover Girl," the song ending with Wahlberg ripping his tank top in half and dabbing it all over his sweaty body before tossing it to an elated woman in the crowd.

As far as vocal talent was concerned, Jordan Knight largely seized the spotlight with flashes of falsettos, culminating with a melodramatic "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)." 

But it was Joey McIntyre who had the night's big moment with "Please Don't Go Girl," staring into space and biting his lip, tears seemingly welling in his eyes, before eventually dropping down to his knees, and putting his face in his hands in anguish.

It was ludicrous, and people around me were laughing — but it was also entertaining.  

"Will you let me sing this song for another 30 years?" McIntyre begged the crowd. By then, the New Kids on the Block will definitely be old men. Surely, they'll be off the road in three decades, right? 

Then again, the New Kids, and their fans, have proven naysayers wrong before.

The other acts 

Salt-N-Pepa is one of the four guest acts performing on the New Kids on the Block's "Mixtape Tour," including in Milwaukee Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

The Mixtape Tour isn't just a name. It's also a good analogy for the show's format. Four of New Kids' peers from the late '80s and early '90s — Salt-N-Pepa, Debbie Gibson, Naughty by Nature, and the pop artist that gave them their break, Tiffany — were on the bill Wednesday. But instead of warming up the crowd, the New Kids warmed up the crowd for them, playing their own 30-minute set before the guests started making appearances throughout the night.

It's a smart approach, guaranteeing a larger, more amped-up crowd for the other acts, while also giving the New Kids a chance to take a breath and change their clothes, and preventing their own appearances from dragging. Each of those mini sets from the secondary acts only lasted two to 10 minutes each, with no pause in between, keeping the night moving briskly and ensuring no one outlasted their welcome. 

Debbie Gibson sings a duet of "Lost In Your Eyes" with New Kids on the Block's Joey McIntyre on "The Mixtape Tour," including in Milwaukee on Wednesday night, June 12, 2019.

Naughty by Nature's Treach hasn't lost a step, evident by his quick flow through "O.P.P." and "Hip-Hop Hooray," while Vin Rock won points with a Brewers-themed Naughty by Nature shirt. 

Debbie Gibson and Tiffany both put on aerobic performances, physically and vocally, the former doing an unapologetically cheesy, undeniably crowd-pleasing duet of "Lost in Your Eyes" with McIntyre. The song ended with the two of them belting it out while standing atop a piano, the only instrument on stage Wednesday.

And Salt-N-Pepa, supported by four frisky male dancers, brought plenty of swagger and female empowerment to defiant, trailblazing rap classics like "Let's Talk About Sex" and "Push It," illustrating why they're one of the most important acts in hip-hop history. 

The takeaways 

  • Wednesday's show ended with all five acts on stage together for a fun new collaboration made for the tour, " '80s Baby." It's a nostalgic throwaway, but it also showcases their individual skill sets better than it needed to.
  • After second song "My Favorite Girl," the New Kids tossed their white jackets into the pit of fans in front of the cassette-shaped main stage. That's quite the generous souvenir, but sadly, too good to be true — a few seconds later someone from the crew was seen walking with the crumpled up coats to the back of the stage. 
  • New Kids on the Block had to miss out on Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals for Wednesday's concert, but they showed support for their beloved hometown team the Boston Bruins, wearing team jerseys for "Hangin' Tough" and "Baby." (The Bruins, alas, lost to the St. Louis Blues.)
  • When Salt-N-Pepa performed "Whatta Man," footage from a live "change cam" showed up on the screen on stage, with Jordan Knight, Wahlberg, McIntyre and Danny Wood mugging it up shirtless for the camera. Wood also held up a Marquette University shirt, getting cheers in the process.
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee also got referenced in Wednesday's show, with the Panthers Dance Team performing along with "Boys in the Band" and a dance medley that included Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me" — complete with Jordan Knight lifting up his shirt and pouring an invisible jar of sugar over his bare abs. 

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Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook at

Piet also talks concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee. Hear it at 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9), or wherever you get your podcasts.

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