A decade and a half after they rocked stages with their high-pitched bubblegum pop, the New Kids on the Block are back. So, too, are the band's shrieking fans, besotted as ever—but this time, with memories of their days before diapers and minivans.

I’m 31 and can’t believe they’re back. My friends and I would listen to their music CONSTANTLY and even got banned from the local grocery store for hiding the newest editions of BOP and TEEN BEAT until I saved enough lunch money to buy them. I can’t believe they found them behind the cereal boxes! My room was plastered with posters, which I still have…I have buttons and books, VHS tapes, cassettes, and CDs that are some of my most prized possessions. My mom even painted a picture of Jordan Knight (the man of my dreams) on the back of my favorite jean jacket…it’s the coolest thing EVER and still hangs in my closet.
—Andrea Peterson, Seattle, Washington

The New Kids on the Block may be back, but they’re not here right now. Not all of them, anyway. About 10 minutes ago, one—Jonathan—wandered off to get some cereal. No one has seen him since. Jonathan’s brother, Jordan, is sitting on the couch in this tent set up behind the stage at the Kiss 108 concert, but he keeps getting up to roam around. He returns periodically—then leaves again. Joey, the youngest Kid, stays put through the entire interview, but right now he’s chomping on a bagel and discussing his hat, a leather fedora that if not for the material might be something Sinatra would have worn. (“Is that the same hat from 15 years ago?” a jolly inquisitor asks. “No, see, it has a top,” Joey says, tilting his head down. They both laugh.)

A year earlier, Donnie had the strange impulse to swing by his music lawyer’s office in New York, a place he’d rarely visited in recent years. The lawyer handed Donnie a demo CD, which included someone he’d never heard of singing a tune now called “Summertime.” Suddenly, the boys were back recording in the studio and working on their dance moves. “Summertime,” their first new single, became an instant hit.

In other areas, the Kids are still trying to find the old rhythm. When he hears that two security guards saw a naked woman roaming the Tweeter Center parking lot, Danny attempts to get excited about this news. “A naked woman in the parking lot?” he asks loudly. It’s basic boy-band arithmetic: Undressed women plus musicians equals juvenile, lascivious comments. But no one responds. Donnie, in marketing mode, continues giving an earnest interview. Though it’s a warm day in May, he’s prepared for colder weather: white sneakers, designer jeans, a hoodie, a black ball cap tilted to the left, a white and black scarf, and a black leather jacket with a zipper over the left breast. Jordan and Joey, for reasons unknown, are busy wrestling with each other at the far end of the couch. Jonathan is still MIA.

Considering the long layoff, the rust is understandable. The Kids, incredibly, are pushing 40. It’s been many years since they ran the well-worn path from nobodies to national celebrities to played-out punch lines. But then, for New Kids devotees, this reunion isn’t really about the band or even the music—it’s about the fans themselves, just as it was the first time around. The New Kids were to these women’s adolescences what the Beatles had been to their mothers’—an act around which they spun their experiences and memories and insecurities. Today their daughters have their own bands they can attach themselves to. It’s just a happy accident of timing that NKOTB fans wound up Blockheads and not ‘N Syncophants.

Not that I recommend telling them that. It’s 10 a.m., and outside the Tweeter Center, scores of rabid Kids enthusiasts are already lined up for a concert that won’t begin for a very long time. Among them are two lifelong friends from New Hampshire named Crystal and Sarah. They’ve been waiting years for this show. What’s another 10 hours?