New Edition performs during their 30th Anniversary Reunion Tour at the 1st Mariner Arena in Baltimore, MD on Sunday, May 20, 2012. Photo Credit: Anthony Washington/Metro Montage
By: Benae Mosby
New Edition made its way to Baltimore’s 1st Mariner Arena on Sunday, May 20, on a reunion tour mounted some 30 odd years since the R&B group’s original lineup came together in Boston.
Priming the mostly female crowd for New Edition’s return was El DeBarge, the gilded falsetto who was the driving force behind the ‘80s soul-pop sibling group DeBarge, himself enjoying another turn in the spotlight after incarceration and a lengthy battle with drugs.
DeBarge bounded onto the stage with youthful ease, opening his set with “Stay With Me” and taking a seat at the keyboard for the group’s classics “All This Love” and “Time Will Reveal.” More than 30 years have passed since his own musical debut, and to be sure, he’s weathered several storms since then, so while his lilting three-octave voice is not perfect, it has been remarkably preserved.
DeBarge shared the stage with next-gen performers twice – first, for a touching tribute to D.C. go-go pioneer Chuck Brown featuring Brown’s grandson, and later with his own son, El DeBarge Jr., whose contemporary offerings may have been wasted on a crowd in the mood for a blast from the past. Thankfully, DeBarge the elder was back in control to close out the set, paying homage to brothers Bobby and Tommy DeBarge’s disco-soul group Switch with covers of their “There’ll Never Be” and “I Call Your Name.”
As for the night’s headliners, don’t call it a comeback. Dressed in tailored white jackets with crisp pocket squares, black slacks and sunglasses, the men of New Edition brought the vocals and the choreography, moving and grooving as if they’d never left.
The cool crooners opened with “Word to the Mutha!,” an uptempo New Jack Swing-era cut recorded by Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie Devoe, who formed Bell Biv Devoe in 1989 upon the departure of group frontman Bobby Brown.
With original member Ralph Tresvant and eventual Brown replacement Johnny Gill rounding out the quintet, the group segued into New Edition standards like “If It Isn’t Love” (slick ‘80s footwork intact) and “Hit Me Off,” which brought Bobby Brown sauntering from the wings of the stage for a raspy, surprise entrance.
The group’s most saccharine hits – think “Mr. Telephone Man,” “Jealous Girl,” “Popcorn Love,” and of course, “Candy Girl” – have held up well, and so have the gentlemen’s voices. Sound and movement folded together easily, which is what one would expect of a group that has honed its craft and chemistry for several decades. It was thrilling to watch all six seeming to genuinely enjoy being together again.
The night’s set list also included hits from the New Edition spinoff projects, supported by background vocals from the group’s members. Ralph Tresvant hopped atop a speaker for his solo single “Sensitivity.” Johnny Gill tossed red roses into the crowd during the timelessly romantic “My, My, My” and dismounted into the audience to growl his way through a song from his latest album. And Bobby Brown revisited his own “Roni” and “My Prerogative.”
Arguably the night’s biggest highlight came when New Edition changed into black track suits and baseball hats to launch into Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison.” If anyone present had managed to stay seated throughout the show, for sure they stood to break out their best moves then. Like nearly every hit performed, the familiar crowd-pleaser was a welcome reminder of New Edition’s solid, if oft-understated, R&B legacy. And for the moment, we were all transported back in time – to the dance floor at high school homecoming, the neighborhood playground, the sacred privacy of a childhood bedroom where we sang along to the voices we knew best, never thinking life as a grown up would be any different.
New Edition will be playing in DC on May 26 at the DAR Constitution Hall.
– Benae Mosby