Hangin Tough with the New Kids on the Block

By on July 25, 2017

All Photos by Jonathan Hawkins

The Total Package Tour rolled into Tampa, FL on Saturday, July 14, and
it was one joyful nostalgia explosion after another as Boyz II Men,
Paula Abdul, and headliners, New Kids On The Block took over the Amalie
Arena in Tampa, FL. This was my first time seeing any of these
performers live, and as soon show openers Boyz II Men started singing
their 1991 song “Motownphilly,” I knew this tour was going to be well
worth it.

Boyz II Men—minus one member but still made up of founding singers
Wanya Morris, Nathan Morris, and Shawn Stockman—delivered an inspired
warm-up performance. From “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”
to “On Bended Knee” and “Water Runs Dry,” the group sang their hearts
out hit after hit. They even handed out long-stem roses to lucky
fans during “I’ll Make Love to You.” While their set design was
minimal, it kept the focus on their stellar vocals, and it was so much
fun singing along with them.

After a short break, Paula Abdul was up next. The Total Package Tour
is her first tour in over twenty years, and she did not disappoint.
Choreography, costume changes, video components—all on point. She sang
a range of her hits, including “Cold-Hearted Snake,” “Rush Rush,” and
audience favorite, “Straight Up.”

At the end of one song, she even jumped from the top of a ladder onto her group of dancers waiting to
catch her below. She timed many of her movements to interactive videos
on the giant LED screen behind her, really making for a dynamic
multimedia effect. She also stopped to speak to the crowd a number of
times, including sharing the story of her many tryouts to be a Laker
Girl, and she seemed as excited and happy to be on stage as we were in the
audience to see her perform.

What was disappointingthough, was her positioning on the far-back
stage close to the LED screen. Even though we were in the fifth row, there
was a “pit” area reserved for VIPs that much of the staging boxed in,
giving the performers the option of walking around more of the
audience areas. For most of Paula’s songs, she stayed in the far back
area, and the brightness and flashes of the LED screen made it
difficult to sometimes see her. But for her last song, “Forever Your
Girl,” she made the rounds and got closer to the main crowd, rocking
every step along the way.

Last up: the group everyone was waiting for. After an
anticipation-building video montage, New Kids On The Block took to the
stage amid a display of pyrotechnic effects, strobe lights, and an
arena of wildly screaming Block-heads (myself included). The
guys—Danny Wood, Jonathan Knight, Jordan Knight, Donnie Wahlberg, and
Joey McIntyre—opened with “One More Night,” the first single off their
upcoming album, Thankful, and then launched into a mix of new songs
and classic NKOTB Staples. Hits like “You Got It (The Right Stuff)”
were made even more special when the lyrics were tweaked to reference
Tampa (thank you, Donnie!)

While this NKOTB fan has to admit that she wasn’t familiar with a few
of the songs in their set list—and “This One’s for the Children” from
their 1989 Christmas album seemed a stretch for many in the crowd,
faux snow falling included—the group’s enthusiasm, energy, and passion
for performing was a thrill to see live. They powered through a number
of costume changes (including the hilarious live backstage strip-show
“quick change cam”) and interacted with the audience every chance they
got. They still do many of their original dance moves too, and on the
rare occasion, one of the guys missed a step, one of their bandmates
was there to give a gentle ribbing and a pat on the back. There was
absolutely a bit of an unexpected Magic Mike vibe going on at some
points (especially during “Hard,” when a barrage of eggplants,
cucumbers, etc., flashed around on the screen behind them), but the
humor and fun and cheekiness of it all, especially for the guys on
stage, were infectious.

The highlight of their set for me was the finale song, “Hangin’
Tough.” The bandmates led the arena in the song’s signature arm wave,
and between the smoke effects, confetti bombs, and epic ’90s dance
moves, it was like being inside the most totally awesome of awesome
nostalgia bubbles. This was my first NKOTB show, and I’d definitely go
see them again and Paula Abdul & Boyz II Men!


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