Tony! Toni! Toné!
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Better than: Smacking it up, flipping it, or rubbing it down.
New Edition's "Road to 30" tour celebrates 29 years since the band found international recording success. But its origins actually stretch back to 1978, when producer Maurice Starr (who later also assembled New Kids on the Block and took to wearing eccentric military garb) created a group with Bobby Brown, Michael Bivins, and Ricky Bell. The three were ages 9-11 at the time.
Now in their early 40s, the core touring unit of New Edition for the last five-plus years has been Bivins, Bell, Ronnie DeVoe, Ralph Tresvant, and Johnny Gill, with Brown popping up intermittently. So intermittently, in fact, that we didn't believe he'd show up onstage Saturday night, even after it had been announced that all six members were in the building. And we weren't the only ones. "I know y'all didn't believe Bobby Brown was gonna be here!" teased Tresvant as each member introduced himself individually.
But there he was. "Oakland!" Brown bellowed to deafening screams. "I'm thankful for a lot of things, but definitely for Oakland. Y'all have really supported us through our whole career." He thanked the audience on behalf of the Brown family and the Houston family for "being yourselves."
Expectations for Brown's singing haven't been high since tumbling through his well-documented years of drug abuse with his late ex-wife Whitney Houston, but on Saturday he appeared happy and healthy, fresh off a Hawaiian honeymoon from his second marriage.
We kept our attention fixated on Brown when he was onstage. He definitely knew the choreography, but he didn't always give the steps their full oomph, though his movements felt jauntier by the end. His voice sounded stronger than it has in years, perhaps since he says he's stopped smoking, though he relied on the crowd to sing the hooks to his hits "Roni" and "My Prerogative."
New Edition shows give the fans exactly what they want, including teases of early offerings like "Popcorn Love" and "Candy Girl" alongside the members' popular solo songs (Johnny Gill's "My My My," Ricky Bell's "When Will I See You Smile Again," and Ralph Tresvant's "Sensitivity"). Gill left the stage to mingle on the floor while offering a tease of his new album Still Winning, his vocals hitting like a powerful combination of preacher and lovemaker holding a sermon on what he's going to do to the ladies.
But they wisely reserved the two Bell Biv DeVoe hits, "Do Me" and "Poison," to bring the house down at the end. Fedoras were exchanged for baseball lids, and Brown showed off a Giants cap, which was funny because the show had been delayed because of a late A's game next door in the Coliseum. While all six sang the saucy BBD tunes, Bell, Bivins, and DeVoe jacked up the energy level with explosive dance moves.
Openers Tony! Toni! Toné! began the show 40 minutes late and struggled with multiple sound problems, including faulty microphones and an inoperable DJ station. The band pulled off a crowd-pleasing set for locals at a KBLX concert last summer, proving that the chops are still there. And while the crowd reacted favorably to "Anniversary," it was particularly upsetting to watch the two-song set end to a loud round of booing in the group's hometown.
Luckily, that low note seemed quickly forgotten in the ensuing hours as the crowd sang, danced, and expressed unbridled joy. The Bay Area audience was one of the true highlights of the night.
Personal bias: Been a New Edition fan for 29 years.
Random detail: Everyone in my immediate vicinity knew the key dance steps of the night, which made me glad I had brushed up with a tutorial beforehand.
By the way: Earlier in the day, Brown promoted his new album, The Masterpiece, with a signing at Rasputin Music in Berkeley.