SALT LAKE CITY — Last night, I hugged a New Kid on the Block. I still haven't sorted out how my seventh-grade self would feel about it, but my 41-year-old self was, surprisingly, a little giddy.
That hug — one of likely hundreds given out by the Kids at Thursday night's Vivint Arena show — seems to encapsulate much of what the hit boy band's 2019 "Mixtape Tour" is about. After years of being teenage, or more likely, preteen fantasies for their scores of dedicated fans, NKOTB have reached an age where they seem ready to be real people for the young girls who catapulted them to '80s and '90s stardom.
Or, mostly real.
NKOTB did make sure the arena's packed house of screaming fans knew that while they now are in their 40s and yes, even 50s, they haven't let themselves go. No, if anything, NKOTB made a special point of proving that boy band stardom wins you a personal trainer for life.
Which was something of a mixed message the whole night through. NKOTB couldn't seem to decide if they wanted to be cool dads or PG-13 Chip N Dale dancers, high-fiving the young daughters of fans one minute and showing off their (let's face it) impressive six-packs the next.
But if the 35-year-old and up women screaming their heads off in the crowd were any indication, the audience appreciated both versions of their favorite boys.
After DJ Illtown Sluggaz hyped up an already hyped crowd by spinning 20 minutes worth of '80s hits, NKOTB made their dramatic entry on a riser and kicked off the night with a strong opening set that included early hits "My Favorite Girl" and "You Got It," as well as more recent tunes "Summertime" and "The Way." Staying true to their boy band roots, NKOTB — dressed in almost matching white outfits — moved easily through their choreographed dances, clearly taking their trademark shoulder brushes and fist pumps a little less seriously than in years past, but gamely playing along.
The five NKOTB members — Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood, Joey McIntyre and brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight — are performers through and through, milking lingering looks, playing to the cameras and knowing how to get the most out of the crowd, but they also sounded good together, their poppy harmonies blending nicely. Jordan Knight and Joey McIntyre particularly impressed with their vocal ranges, reminding the audience that while they are in a boy band, they can, in fact, sing.
But the night did not only belong to NKOTB. The group also brought along '80s pop stars Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, hip-hop group Naughty By Nature and, for my money, the real headliner of the night, Salt-N-Pepa, minus their third member, DJ Spinderella, who was allegedly fired from the group earlier this year.
Following NKOTB's opening set, Tiffany belted out — along with everyone in the arena — "I Think We're Alone Now," her No. 1 Billboard hit. That song was first recorded back in the '60s by Tommy James and the Shondells, of "Mony Mony" fame, but the tune belongs to Tiffany. I was a huge Tiffany fan as a young girl, but somehow it had escaped my notice that Tiffany can really sing. The musician, who once let a very young NKOTB open for her, is a belter with the best of them, and her soaring vocals filled Vivint Arena's vast space.
The show moved seamlessly to a stage on the other end of the arena's floor, where pop singer Gibson, dazzling in a (yes) electric blue sparkly jumpsuit, all blond hair and white teeth, pranced and danced and belted out her hits "Electric Youth" and "Out Of The Blue."
NKOTB took back the arena following Gibson's set, setting the mood (if you know what I mean) by showing off their sexy sides, wearing sultry black and singing a medley of soulful tunes that included "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)," "Valentine Girl" and "If You Go Away," and then pulling out all of their come-hither looks for their hit "Please Don't Go Girl."
And then — oh, and then. I fully admit that I wasn't part of the NKOTB screamer set — either in seventh grade nor now — and that I even had to look up the Kid I hugged (it was Jonathan Knight, the oldest Kid), so for me, the true heroes of the night were emcees Cheryl James (Salt) and Sandra Denton (Pepa).
If you want to see girl power in action, just watch these two command a room, an arena, a stage — wherever they are, I have to think they command it. With a pack of male backup dancers, Salt-N-Pepa gave the screaming crowd (there was so much screaming last night that Wahlberg crowned the Salt Lake audience the tour's loudest yet) everything they had. They performed three sets, running quickly through their hits "Whatta Man," "Push It," "Let's Talk About Sex" and, of course, "Shoop," their biggest and perhaps filthiest hit. Knowing all of the words to that song at 41 felt a little less savory than when I sang them at 20, but I wasn't alone: Every woman I could see was moving and grooving and likely praying that their daughters couldn't understand the words. Salt-N-Pepa could have played it five more times.
NKOTB ended the night with all of their musical guests on stage, a menagerie of '80s and '90s nostalgia singing the NKOTB's song "80s Baby." The crowd screamed some more, confetti dropped and for one brief shining moment, we were all 14 again, with a life full of right stuff in front of us.
Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly identified the Debbie Gibson song "Out Of The Blue" as "Without You."