With roots dating back to 1978, New Edition set the template for the boy bands that would follow throughout the 80s and 90s, selling over 20 million albums around the world while tallying four platinum records and two gold albums in America.
Drenched at all times in sugary sweet melodies and harmonies, the group deftly evolved, working at a brisk clip which saw New Edition release their first five albums between 1983 and ‘88, a career for most groups taking them just five years.
Drawing on the rich pop tradition of the vocal groups before them, early New Edition conjured up images of the Jackson 5, with the group pushing things forward via the incorporation of rap within meticulously produced pop masterpieces.
Throughout the 80s and 90s the group had an almost Midas-like Touch, with each of its six members scoring a platinum album in their work outside New Edition, a feat unequaled by New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys or NSYNC. Brown’s sophomore effort Don’t Be Cruel finished as the best selling album of 1989 and has sold nearly eight million copies to date, while Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe went four times platinum after Bell Biv Devoe’s debut Poison a year later, Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill both achieving the milestone that same year.
That success underscores the undeniable appeal of each member of New Edition, immense influence which sits at the heart of the aptly-titled “Legacy” tour, a lengthy outing which runs across America through April, wrapping up April 30, in Tampa, Florida.
With New Edition joined by actor and R&B singer Tank, soul/R&B outfit Guy and singer, producer and radio host Keith Sweat, few tours right now are offering fans the bang for the buck that the “Legacy” tour is, four solid hours of live entertainment taking place on stage each night, with the members of New Edition celebrating their collective legacy via the performance of all the hits.
Over the course of 90 minutes on stage Thursday night at Chicago’s United Center, New Edition took a well-deserved victory lap following their return last year during the “Culture” tour, opening with a slew of New Edition while hitting upon the biggest tracks from Tresvant, Gill, Brown and Bell Biv Devoe.
“Chicago! Make some noise right now!” demanded DeVoe of a jampacked crowd more than willing to oblige. “I know we got some Ralph and Ricky fans up in here!” he began, introducing the group to rapturous applause. “I know we got some Johnny fans! Put your hands together for Michael Bivins! And the Bobby Brown!” he continued. “Chicago… Is it alright if we take you back to 1985?”
Bivins crouched down for an early interlude as Brown wailed, New Edition offering up “Mr. Telephone Man” out of “If it Isn’t Love” early in the set Thursday night.
Backed by a five piece group, including a DJ, live guitar and drums and a pair of keyboard players, the group was flanked by a quartet of dancers, the live band further fueling each performance.
Sneaking a quick nod to the Jackson 5 in amongst their synchronized act during “Crucial” to open the show, the group’s moves were on point even as each member enters his mid-50s.
Bivins reached left, playfully popping Brown in the stomach, Bobby turning with a chuckle to show the crowd his backside during “My Prerogative.”
Tresvant and Gill stalked the stage’s outermost realm as Brown, Bell, Bivins and DeVoe sat center stage on stools, serenading the Windy City faithful with “I’m Still in Love With You.”
A costume change saw the group don black sequin suits, Tresvant traversing his upper vocal reaches as he delivered the saccharine sweetness that still defines the group’s earliest hit in “Candy Girl.”
Bell Biv Devoe’s “Do Me” gave way to Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” Bobby delivering the song’s plaintive wail while dressed up in a red jacket during a take further driven by a live drum solo, New Edition heading for the finish line on stage in Chicago with a slew of solo hits.
Brown smiled wide throughout “Every Little Step” as Bivins bobbed alongside the drummer, live bass further pushing a frenetic take on “Poison,” sparks soon falling as New Edition descended from the stage and out of sight.
“Mr. Sweat, the stage is now ready for your arrival…” came the announcement, signaling the arrival of Keith Sweat a mere five minutes after Guy’s set concluded.
Clad in a silver blazer while flanked by four dancers, Sweat began with “Don’t Stop Your Love,” sporting a black crushed velvet shirt as the crowd clapped along next during “I Want Her.”
“Yeah! How y’all doin’? I said, how y’all doing?!” asked Sweat rhetorically on stage Thursday in Chicago. “All my single ladies make some noise!” came the singer’s request. “I say this every night… Rumor has it that I like getting drunk on stage,” said Sweat with a chuckle. “Just a little sip,” he joked. “Chicago! Let’s take it all the way back… And scream!” said the charismatic singer, setting up “Get up on It.
Sweat shouted out deceased singer Gerald Levert prior to a look back at the material of his super group LSG as his set progressed.
Following an opening set by singer Tank, who portrayed label exec Jheryl Busby in the BET series The New Edition Story and The Bobby Brown Story, Guy put forth a frenetic 40 minute performance, setting the stage for Sweat and New Edition on stage in Chicago.
Driven by New Jack Swing architect Teddy Riley on keyboards and vocals, Guy was a gas, stopping just short of stealing the show Thursday night.
Every phone on the floor was out as Guy launched into “Groove Me,” slowing things down while establishing an almost Zapp like groove during “Goodbye Love.”
Aaron Hall moved out to the floor to deliver a highly entertaining take on “Let’s Chill” as the group inched toward finish.
“Chi Town! This is the first time we’ve been here in a while!” said Riley, setting up “I Like.” “How many of y’all were born in the 60s?” he asked to a tepid response. “How many were born in the 70s? Make some noise. How many people were born in the 80s,” he continued, the crowd response growing louder and louder as he made his way through each decade, quieting by the time he hit upon the 90s. “I knew it!” said the singer with a laugh. “If it wasn’t for y’all, we would be here. We appreciate it.”