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March 27, 1994|Dennis Hunt

FREE FALLIN': What can a pop act do for an encore after it's played to adoring crowds at 55,000-seat Dodger Stadium?

The answer for most is not dropping down to the 1,200-capacity Palace or the 850-capacity Ventura Theatre.

But that's what happened to New Kids on the Block--or as they now bill themselves, NKOTB.

Longevity is always a big concern when the average age of your fans is 12, but the drop-off for these Kids seems particularly dramatic.

The 1990 Dodger Stadium show was part of one of the most remarkable tours any pop group has ever had. It grossed $74.1 million--a figure believed by Pollstar magazine, which covers the concert business, to be exceeded only by the $98 million raked in by the Rolling Stones in 1989.

And the Palace and Ventura dates next month aren't isolated down spots for NKOTB. They're part of a monthlong tour of 1,000- to 2,000-seat venues.

Signs of diminished interest were obvious last month with the release of the group's first studio album in four years. While two of the Kids' previous collections shot to No. 1, "Face the Music" entered the charts at a tepid No. 37 and quickly plummeted from sight.

Is there any hope for NKOTB at this point?

"If they make the right record, they can go from being uncool to cool in a matter of 30 days," says KPWR-FM program director Rick Cummings, whose Top 40 station was a champion of the group. He blames much of their slide on what he feels is a weak new album. "The next record has to be better or they'll really be dead," he says.

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