I feel the same way about New Edition that some folks my age with a more pronounced rock bent feel about…I don’t know, KISS, maybe? “Candy Girl,” New Edition’s first hit, came out when I was 6. I was a fan right off jump. Not only was the music great, but Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, Mike and Ralph (and Johnny some years later) were Black kids just a few years older than me. In matters of style and taste, they were like the older brothers who showed the way. There’s a solid fifteen year period (from “Candy Girl” to Home Again) when I could chart my life to songs by NE or one of its offshoot acts, and they probably run a close second to the J5 as my favorite vocal group of all time. As stated at last night’s Boston homecoming show in a testimonial-filled video (featuring Tyrese, Mary J. Blige, Morris Chestnut and others,) they are the ’80s/’90s equivalent (and now equal) of The Temptations/Four Tops/O’Jays, and really, one of the last of a dying breed.
When the opportunity arose to see NE live on their home turf of Boston, I jumped to purchase a ticket. I’d seen them once before, at New York’s Beacon Theater in 2003, and they were fantastic. Bobby was not a member of the group during this time. I realize that for a lot of casual fans, he would be the featured attraction. However, and I stress that this isn’t a dis to Bobby at all, he wasn’t a member of the group for a good chunk of its successful period, and even when he was in the group, he wasn’t the featured vocalist. New Edition without Ralph Tresvant would be a major issue. NE with no Bobby? No problem. With that said, I was excited to see all six members share one stage.
From an objective standpoint, the show I saw this weekend wasn’t perfect. There were a few issues, mostly regarding pacing, which is not an uncommon problem at the start of a tour (the show I saw was only the 2nd or 3rd date of the entire tour.) There were a few unexplained pauses in the action, and an enjoyable but unnecessary 10 minute DJ set in the middle of the show. I’d imagine that those pauses were a consequence of a bigger issue: specifically the fact that Bobby was not present for the second half of the show. The singer seemed “off” during the first half of the show, complaining about his in-ear monitors not working, but almost exactly halfway in, he just poof..vanished. I’m still not sure if that was by design or not. It didn’t matter much, though. As they’ve done many times in the past, the remaining five members ultimately proved themselves to be troopers, delivering a fantastic show featuring note-perfect choreography, a solid band (most of the music was live, even though there was some sampled percussion and extra background vocals) and hits, hits, hits, hits and mo’ hits.
I want to stop for a second and talk about the choreography. The members of New Edition now range in age from 44 to 48. Those of you in that age range (or a little younger) are well aware that you can’t do the same things with your body that you used to be able to do in your teens and twenties. So it was a revelation for me to see NE executing the steps for songs like “If It Isn’t Love” and a group version of Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” like it was still 1990. I was beyond impressed. The members also still, largely, look and sound the same-giving proof to the old adage “Black Don’t Crack.”
If it was a hit-they sang it. From “Candy Girl” and “Jealous Girl” (performed in grown-up versions of the glittery ensembles the group did shows in back in the day) to “Can You Stand The Rain” and “I’m Still In Love With You”, all were performed (even if they were occasionally truncated.) For the hardcore fans, New Edition also added versions of “Once In A Lifetime Groove,” “With You All The Way” and “Lost In Love.” Of course, all the members also performed short solo sets. BBD set the place ablaze with “Do Me,” “BBD (I Thought It Was Me)” and “When Will I See You Smile Again,” while Ralph delivered “Sensitivity,” (which featured the most elaborate staging of the show), “When I Need Somebody” and “Stone Cold Gentleman.” Johnny actually delivered two solo sets, performing “There U Go,” “Fairweather Friend,” a version of Stevie Wonder’s “All In Love Is Fair” and a rendition of “My, My, My” that briefly took a turn for the silly when he went overboard on the vocal pyrotechnics while running through the audience. Bobby opened with a high energy performance of “On Our Own” but seemed to run out of gas over the course of “Good Enough” and “Roni” before departing the stage with the proclamation “Bobby Brown, bitch!”
There is no question as to whether you will leave a New Edition show entertained or not. These guys, in whatever iteration, are class “A” showmen. I hope Bobby’s absence was a minor issue (and sure enough, it looks like he’s in the house and ready for their show in Philly) and I hope this marks a continuation of their legacy. Ralph said during the show that NE is recording new material, and that a long delayed film (or book?) about their story is finally in their works.¹ The guys have at times been their worst enemies, especially when it comes to preserving a legacy that deserves to be mentioned in a much better critical light than that of their successors New Kids On The Block². Despite a couple of warning signs to the contrary, I really hope that these brothers have finally gotten it together³.
¹-Is it possible to hold your breath and not hold your breath at the same time?
²-No shade towards NKOTB. But comparing them to New Edition is like comparing 3rd Bass to Public Enemy.
³-An official New Edition website would be a nice start.