MANSFIELD - The annual Kiss Concert is a behemoth pageant of chart-toppers, and this year's model was no exception, featuring a cavalcade of short sets from (among many other Top 40 darlings) sibling heartthrobs the Jonas Brothers, newly minted pop star Leona Lewis, R&B singer Ray J, and pop-rockers Maroon 5.
But this year KISS staged a high-wattage stroll down memory lane - with a hometown twist - as New Kids on the Block, the pride of Beantown in the late '80s, reunited for its first local show in 14 years at the Tweeter Center last night.
In natty black suits and sneakers, Jordan and Jonathan Knight, Donnie Wahlberg, Joey McIntyre, and Danny Wood - now in their mid-30s - trotted out a nimble facsimile of the old-school footwork set to a button-pushing medley of "Step By Step"; "Hangin' Tough"; "Please Don't Go Girl"; and "You Got It (The Right Stuff)." Five female dancers in Celtics jerseys paid tribute to the home team's win last night (Wahlberg and Wood were late getting from the game to the venue, causing a reshuffling of set times).
Heartfelt shout-outs to the hometown crowd were greeted with comparably enthusiastic spasms of shrieking, which didn't wane a decibel during the New Kids' sweet-natured new single, "Summertime," and "Tonight," a goofy paean from the group's second album to the good old days of their first album.
The sound was so poor throughout the concert that it's nearly impossible to comment on what the New Kids sound like all these years later; ticket-holders for NKOTB's two sold-out Boston Garden shows in September will find out. It hardly mattered in the context of last night's love fest - but with a new album on the way, New Kids surely hope the excitement greeting their reunion deepens into something more lasting than passing nostalgia.
A more current breed of hometown heroes also wowed the crowd last night: Boys Like Girls, whose drummer, John Keefe, graduated high school on the Tweeter Center stage, plied effervescent youth anthems to sugar-coated, angsty perfection.
Despite the range of styles represented in today's Top 40, the connecting thread during yesterday's nine-hour event was a preponderance of catchy hooks. Everyone from Jesse McCartney, updating his Disney-certified sound with an itchy R&B edge, to Euro-dance queen Cascada, to slick teen rapper Sean Kingston plied sweet, sweet melodies.
Former Fugee Wyclef Jean's galvanizing performance found him scaling the venue's support pillars and carrying small children onto the stage, while singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw nearly conquered the dreadful sound mix with the sheer force of his soulful voice.
Simon Cowell protegee Leona Lewis didn't fare as well, partly because two of her three songs were delicate ballads. When she got around to singing "Bleeding Love," her hit single, Lewis brought the powerhouse "Idol" brand to life with Mariah Carey-caliber vocal pyrotechnics.
Maroon 5 and Natasha Bedingfield delivered arena-strength pop-rock sets spiked with rhythm and blues and plenty of romance and swagger. But no amount of seasoned songwriting or stage presence could induce the level of hysteria conjured by the mere mention of the Jonas Brothers. When the mop-topped New Jersey trio materialized, they whirled and jumped and fell to their knees in the service of hook-drenched power pop.