Donnie Wahlberg says the New Kids On The Block don’t mind tire-kicking the idea of becoming Las Vegas headliners. They’re even “taking a peek under the hood” with a four-night run at Planet Hollywood Resort.
But a drive-through Elvis wedding? Forget about it.
“Jenny and I can’t say anything, even in jest, without it becoming a headline,” Wahlberg says of his fiancee, actress-comedian Jenny McCarthy.
A previous joke about getting married at an Applebee’s got the restaurant chain all excited on Twitter. “We’ll probably be a little more traditional,” Wahlberg says, before allowing, “Who doesn’t want to get married in Vegas once in their life? But it’s not gonna happen for us.”
A good compromise, he decides, could be some sort of “BH-elor party” with the fans known as “Blockheads” who are making an informal convention of the four-night stand at Planet Hollywood. The four shows that launch Thursday are billed as the quintet’s only North American dates this year.
Last year almost to the week, New Kids headlined an arena tour stop at Mandalay Bay. Their opening act was Boyz II Men, now ensconced as headliners at The Mirage. Coincidence?
More or less, Wahlberg says. This Block of shows wasn’t set up as a specific test to see if the group could share The Axis theater with Britney Spears in the way Celine Dion, Rod Stewart and others alternate in the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. But “the venue, the timing and everything else fit” dovetailed in with the group’s summer plan to tour Europe.
Since they’re in this deep, “Obviously now it’s like, ‘Hey, if this little dance works out, we’ll think about revisiting it.’
“Vegas has always been something that we’ve had our sights set on, almost an inevitability,” Wahlberg says of the vocal group which started the “boy band” phenomenon in the 1980s with Wahlberg singing and dancing alongside Jordan and Johnathan Knight, Joey McIntyre and Danny Wood.
“It’s always something we joked about when we were in our 20s: ‘When we’re old guys we’ll do Vegas,’ ” says Wahlberg, who turns 45 in August. “And when we were in our 30s, (we realized) Vegas had changed so much. It was suddenly like, ‘Wow. Vegas makes sense.’
“Guys have families now, guys have other jobs, things going on. Setting up shop in a place like Vegas for a while, it actually is very logical. You don’t have to wait till you’re 65 anymore.”
New Kids has remained at least a part-time commitment for each of the five since the quintet reunited in 2008. Wahlberg is the most high-profile, thanks to his acting career that includes the CBS cop drama “Blue Bloods” with Tom Selleck.
“After six months of pretty much just acting in 16-hour days (on the series), my creative juices are going crazy for New Kids,” Wahlberg says. “Right around the time I’m having a nervous breakdown on the end of a season of ‘Blue Bloods,’ when I can’t figure out how to interrogate anyone anymore, any different than I have the last eight months.”
Last year’s New Kids album “10” “really rejuvenated us,” he says. “We were definitely at a point where touring off the same songs from the old days and our 2008 album (“The Block”) was getting a little redundant and we definitely needed new music.”
The goal of recording an album at this point, he says, is neither of two things Wahlberg admits would be tough nowadays: selling a lot of records or being perceived as credible in the outside world.
“The lust for credibility is fool’s gold,” he says. That’s because “credibility usually comes at the expense of your core audience.”
That core audience has remained more or less unshaken since producer Maurice Starr first assembled the Massachusetts teens in 1984 and made them pop stars with the “Hangin’ Tough” album four years later. They weren’t the first “boy band” — Wahlberg gives that credit to Starr’s earlier group New Edition — but they were the first with action figures, and other maximerchandising.
Their fans still aren’t too old to scream, and Wahlberg says “this fantastic energy builds up between us and the audience” in theater-sized venues.
“Our focus is to know our audience and serve them first,” he adds. “If we’re not relevant to our audience then we’re nothing.” In retrospect, the 1994 album “Face the Music” — the last before the group’s 12-year breakup — probably went too far in “trying to be relevant to the world” by embracing the “New Jack” pop trend of the day.
Now, he says, “I think the best way for a band like us to achieve credibility is longevity.
“If 30 years pass and everyone’s looking around and saying, ‘These guys are still chugging along,’ it makes people look at you through a different lens.”
And who knows? Perhaps that lens will be on the Strip.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.