Straight Up … The Right Stuff

July 2 at the Prudential Center in Newark, the concert was New Kids on the Block (NKTOB), Paula Abdul and Boyz to Men.

I really didn’t know what to expect going in. But I found this show to be one of the best concerts I have attended in quite some time. I love when a concert has several acts and, in this case, all three acts had No. 1 hit songs during the ‘80s and ‘90s — during the highlight of their careers.

It was a sold out show, every seat was occupied and full of excitement. No one sat down from start to finish.

I was expecting a lot of overaged teeny boppers.  What I found were major, hardcore NKOTB fans for sure. I had listened to these songs when they came on the radio, but I wasn’t fanatical. Each of the artists had 30-plus year careers, but they made you feel like they were as fresh as new artists.

While they were all older and looking a little different because of age, you would think you were seeing them from their debuts in the ‘80s and 90s.

When I began writing this article, I realized each artist has enough content to warrant their own piece.  The opening act was Boyz to Men. They sang all of their hits, including “I’ll Make Love to You, On Bended Knee, Motown Philly, End of the Road and A Song for Mama.

They also surprised me with an acapella version of “In the Still of the Night.” They sang The Guess Who’s American Woman in Lenny Kravitz style and they also performed Bruno Mars’ Locked Out of Heaven. They were spot on.

I had no idea that this R&B trio from Philadelphia actually played instruments.  I was quite impressed with their talent. They played guitars for the covers.

On stage was a drummer and a keyboardist accompanying the instrumental tracks that Nathan Morris, Wayna Morris and Shawn Stockman sang accurately.  Known for their emotional ballads and acapella harmonies, B2M were signed by Motown in the 90s. Starting out as a quartet, they lost Michael McCary to health issues. The now trio didn’t suffer from this loss.

B2M’s original name was Unique Attraction, singing New Edition songs in their high school boys room. I can only imagine the amazing harmonies with a bathrooms acoustics. Discovered by New Edition and Bel Biv Devoe, they would reach international success in 1992 with End of the Road. This song would remain at Billboard’s No. 1 spot for 13 weeks, breaking Elvis Presleys record of holding the longest number one spot on the charts.

Then they would break their own record with two other songs at No. 1: “I’ll Make Love to Youand One Sweet Day. Both were collaborations with Mariah Carey. These songs remained at the top of the charts for 14 and 16 weeks respectively, breaking their own prior records.

They also had three songs all within the top 10.

Only three other artists accomplished this:  Elvis, The Beatles and Mariah Carey.

B2M would continue to record and release new albums through 2016m, but none of them achieved the success of their earlier releases. They also have appeared in several television shows and commercials.

Their performance at the Rock was outstanding. I felt like I was seeing them for the first time in the 90s.  They were definitely a compliment to the already talented roster for this evening.

Paula Abdul, meanwhile, at 55, and just 5-feet tall, began her career as a Los Angeles Lakerscheerleader/dancer at 18.

An American-Canadian, she was discovered by The Jacksons. Signed on to choreograph for the song Torture,” she would then be signed on to choreograph the entire Victory Tour.

Paula and Toni Basil (Hey, Mickey” fame) were the most sought-after choreographers in the 80s, but Paula would surpass Toni by being a choreographer to Janet Jackson as well as other major artists.

Paula saved up enough money to do a demo tape and the rest is music history.

Paula’s first album, Forever Your Girl,” in 1988 had many hits, including the title track, Straight Up, Opposites Attract and Cold Hearted Snake.  Some 64 weeks after its debut, it hit No. 1 on the charts.

Paula wasn’t a trained singer, but with the rise of MTV around this time, her dancing would propel her to fame.  Her background singer actually accused her of not singing any of the songs.She claimed it was her voice on the entire album. Paula won this legal battle but would have this scrutiny hanging over her head for the remainder of her career.

Paula looked great at this show. She was absolutely, 100% lip syncing to her backing tracks. The mic was turned on for her to speak and you could definitely tell the difference between her singing and speaking voice. Her performance focused on her dancing and there is no way she could have sung live and while dancing as she did. She would have to lip sync.

She and her dancers were extremely well rehearsed.

She spoke of how Gene Kelly was her mentor and how they would have tea together once a week. She did a dance number with a shadow, silhouette to Singing in the Rain.

This was Abdul’s first tour in over 20 years — and she didn’t disappoint. Although she hasn’t been touring, she was still very active in the entertainment industry, including as the nice judge on “American Idol.”

Lastly, NKTOB, was the act everyone was there to see.

I was taken aback on their talent and performance.  I had no idea that Donnie Wahlberg sang a lot of the songs and I also didn’t know that they wrote most of their songs.  I always thought they were a carved out, cookie cutter, carbon copy of other boy band

Jordan, Jonathan, Joey, Donnie and Danny — all out of Boston were all electrifying. They sounded like age never touched them. Although age has changed them visually, their sound was the same.

Selling more than 80 million records within the 80s and 90s they disbanded in 1994 and then reunited in 2007. Their first hit, Please Don’t Go Girl, would catapult them to stardom. Their first album was a bomb. Their second album would change their lives forever and spawn many hits, which they sang all with finesse at the show, including “You Got the Right Stuff, HangingTough and an excellent version of the Delfonics Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time?”

I also wasn’t aware Wood and Wahlberg wrote and produced Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s No. 1 hit, Good Vibrations. Of course, Marky Mark is the now movie star and brother of Donnie, Mark Wahlberg.

NKTOB was always panned by music critics and I, too, never gave them the credit they actually deserved as songwriters, producers, choreographers and actors.  Some of them are a triple threat.

All of the guys are in excellent physical shape. They would have to be in order to give the exhilarating performance they gave the Prudential Center.  Donnie, the firecracker and emcee of their, seemed 17 again.

Jordans falsetto hasn’t been touched at all. Every song was perfect. Joey’s Please Don’t Go Girlwasn’t as high as its original version but then again, he was only 16 at the time of the original recording. Their air of confidence in their performance shined. They have grown into their handsome good looks.  They gave the impression they could do this forever, even though their performance was action packed.  

I can surely see that they will be touring for a long time to come.

Out of all of the NKOTB guys, Donnie was the only one who remained in the public eye.  He continues to write, produce and act, including CBS’s hit show “Blue Bloods.

This show was something I will always remember.  All three of these acts were great.  I don’t have a single negative comment about any of them. I am quite happy that I had the opportunity to see them. Yes, they all used backing tracks and didn’t actually sing, but it really was a fantastic show. Each act performed at least an hour or more.  

The tour runs through 2018. If you can, I highly recommend you catch it.  Go back in time and relive the No. 1 hit songs that had us dancing and singing 20 to 30 years ago.

And, once again, the Prudential Center doesn’t disappoint.  I know I’ve said it before, but there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. The arena itself was modified to a smaller size. The stage reached out at least a quarter into the audience and the stage was at both ends of the seating bowl. In the center of the stage was a pit filled with crazy fans.  The outside of the stage there were seats that looked like a bar.

Everyone had a great view to all of the action.

The Prudential Center absolutely caters to their customers and ensures everyone gets their money’s worth. It’s is so close to our homes and is a beautiful facility. They were no holds barred when the built this arena, done with the customer in mind for an always-pleasant and wonderful experience.

Upcoming events at The Prudential Center: Lionel Richie/Mariah Carey, Aug 8; Kendrick Lamar, YG & D.R.A.M, Aug. 25; Roger Waters, Sept. 7; Marco Antonio Solis & Antony Santos, Sept. 9; and Sir Paul McCartney, Sept. 11. For more information, visit prudentialcenter.com or call at 800-833-7698.

Joann Barton | Special to The Observer