Boy band kingpins New Kids on the Block headed up a nostalgic three-band bill Thursday night at the Times Union Center that also included 98 Degrees and Boyz II Men.
While none of the bands’ members are boys anymore (more like middle-aged men), all three groups still managed to project a youthful spirit and sound throughout the evening.
It took a while for the New Kids to get there, though. Taking the stage at 9, the group kicked off its nearly two-hour set with “We Own Tonight,” off this year’s “10.” At least five more songs from this album littered the set, and while this new material was enjoyable enough, with shiny pop hooks and sing-along choruses that fit in with the old hits, it was clearly not what anyone came for.
Tellingly, the nearly full house (mostly women) exploded four songs in, when the group kicked into “You Got It (The Right Stuff).” The singers milked it for all it was worth, extending the number with pyrotechnics and synchronized dancing galore.
Early set highlights included “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind),” one of the best showcases for Jordan Knight’s falsetto, and “Remix (I Like the),” one of the few new songs to at least match pace with the group’s classic material, thanks in no small part to an energetic performance from Donnie Wahlberg. Crowd favorite Joey McIntyre got his own lead vocal spotlight on “Please Don’t Go Girl,” a dramatic ballad that got a fittingly dramatic false stop ending.
A mid-set acoustic medley of older songs and covers included “I’ll Be There,” a perfunctory run on George Michael’s “Faith,” and more falsetto from Knight on Prince’s “Kiss.” The show quickly built to its climax from there, with “Step By Step,” “Cover Girl” and “Games” lifting the energy to a fever pitch. Main set closer “Tonight,” featuring a cameo from McIntyre’s young son Griffin, brought the show to a fitting peak.
Boyz II Men kicked things off shortly after 7:30 with a five-song set that, with the exception of final dance number “Motownphilly,” stuck completely to the group’s smooth R&B ballads. Set opener “On Bended Knee” set the tone early on, with baritone Nathan Morris and tenors Wanya Morris and Shawn Stockman carrying the song’s intricate harmony parts. Stockman took the lead on most songs, soaring through set highlight “I’ll Make Love to You” and “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” which began a cappella before the four-piece band joined in for the second verse.
Immediately after came 98 Degrees, sort of the odd men out on the bill — unlike New Kids and Boyz II Men, 98 Degrees was never a boy band genre pioneer, rather playing second fiddle to the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync back in the late '90s. No matter, as the quartet fit seamlessly unto the bill with dance-y new songs and syrup-laden ballads from their heyday. The foursome, led by its most famous member, Nick Lachey, hit its stride early on with opener “Heat it Up” and “Girls Night Out,” one of two songs played from this year’s album “2.0.”
“Microphone,” the set’s other new song, proved a highlight, with an upbeat chorus and vaguely funky beat.