New Kids on the Block show the right stuff with Salt-N-Pepa, En Vogue and Rick Astley

The Boston Celtics are struggling in the NBA Finals. Maybe they could use some tips from their city’s most enduring boy band, New Kids on the Block, who are conquering basketball (and hockey) arenas once again.

On Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center, New Kids superstar Donnie Wahlberg was in sync (sorry for the pun) with his other four bandmates. Their moves and voices blended like a green-tea smoothie. They scored with hit after oldie hit after oldie hit. Despite some flaws, it added up to another winning performance by New Kids, who, like the Celtics, had an unstoppable run back in the day.

Each of the NKOTB starting five (they came together in 1985, took a hiatus from ’94 till 2008) took a turn in the spotlight on Tuesday. Joey McIntyre was by the far the best lead singer and a slick dancer. The reaction, though, was the most vociferous for Wahlberg, whose popularity has grown manifold thanks to his starring role as an iconoclastic detective on CBS’ “Blue Bloods.”

The 10,500 Blockheads’ shrieks got even louder when Wahlberg pulled up his shirt to show off six-pack abs on his 52-year-old body. This wasn’t the Chippendales, this was New Kids on the Block, and grown women were going wild, reliving their youth or enjoying their mid-life fantasies.

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Like an accomplished basketball team, NKOTB understands how to use role players. For their Mixtape Tour 2022, they’ve enlisted fellow late ’80s/1990s MTV favorites En Vogue, Salt-N-Pepa and Rick Astley to help out. It’s a brilliant strategy, especially since these secondary players are not opening acts but rather subs throughout the game, er, concert.

NKOTB took the stage from the jump, charging through “My Favorite Girl” and “You Got It (The Right Stuff),” among others. Boosted by special effects like confetti and lasers as well as an undeniable camaraderie and joie de vivre, the New Kids were overwhelmingly entertaining. The Celtics could use such a potent opening quarter.

For the next quarter, the terrific R&B vocal group En Vogue took the stage. With lead singer Cindy Herron’s right leg in a boot, they oozed attitude on the soulful “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” and the ferocious, liberating “Free Your Mind,” a good philosophy for life — or basketball.

Then Astley, the 56-year-old Brit with a strong voice, came off the bench for “Together Forever” and “It Would Take a Strong Strong Man.”

Inspired by their role players, NKOTB — Danny Wood, Jordan and Jonathan Knight, McIntyre and Wahlberg, ages 49 to 53 — returned in flashy new outfits for a medley of old favorites, including a disco-y rendition of 2013’s “Remix (I Like The),” one of the night’s highlights. Next up was Salt-N-Pepa cruising through “Let’s Talk About Sex” and “Whatta Man,” with the help of En Vogue

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Without pausing for halftime, er, intermission, NKOTB were back, full of energy and fun for more oldies before Astley returned for the money shot, “Never Gonna Give You Up,” his 1987 smash. Salt-N-Pepa topped that on a satellite stage with 1993’s “Shoop,” with an assist from Wahlberg.

Lineup changes came fast and furious, with New Kids committing some turnovers. It seemed crass to start the concert with cheesy commercials for the NKOTB cruise (for real) and Jonathan Knight’s HGTV show and Wood’s cooking program. And the quintet’s lead vocals, save for McIntyre’s and Jordan Knight’s falsetto, were far from championship caliber, though their rhinestone Celtics’ jerseys made for a winning late-in-the-show look.

Featuring recorded music, not a live band, seemed a shortcut that didn’t curtail the showmanship. This concert was similar to NKOTB’s 2019 St. Paul gig with guests Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, Naughty by Nature and Salt-N-Pepa.

The finale was different this time, with the entire lineup joining in for a reprise of “Never Gonna Give You Up,” a theme for vintage music lovers — and diehard Celtics fans.

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