by Calvin Cox
New Edition | SWV Scottrade Center March 29, 2012
Approaching 30 years in the music industry, New Edition has gone through its fair share of changes. Despite the break-ups, lineup changes, and solo and side projects, the Boston-based boy band is back on tour together -- and St. Louis fans packed into the Scottrade Center last night like it was 1985 all over again.
Hometown-boy-made-good DJ Kut acted as an unofficial host for the evening, warming up the crowd with a mix of old school rap and r&b. Kut pulled out a few tricks on the turntables with some competition-style mixing, scratching behind his back and with his foot until he thought twice about it - saying "Let me get down before I bust my ass," as he climbed down from his stool. Local comedian Darius Bradford also made a brief appearance during the intermission, with a few jokes about Chick-O-Sticks and gas prices that left the crowd wanting more.
Not much time was wasted before SWV opened the show around 7:40. The 'Sisters with Voices' are all a bit curvier these days, and they (not surprisingly )didn't seem to have the same spring in their step as they did twenty years ago. That being said, SWV still looks and sounds good -- and they were never really big on dancing to begin with.
Cheryl "Coko" Clemons still handles most of the lead vocals, and her powerfully high-pitched vibrato is as recognizable now as it was back in '95. It seems Leanne "LeLee " Lyons is flexing her pipes a bit more these days, as she sang lead on a verse from the current single "Co-Sign" and a cover of Patti LaBelle's "If Only You Knew" off of the groups upcoming album I Missed Us. Former Survivor contestant Tamara "Taj" Johnson-George didn't sing any lead; although she did spit the Wu-Tang Clan's verse on the "Anything" remix.
SWV played an enjoyable 35-minute set, although it could've been expanded to include more of their hits. A few favorites like "Rain," "Use Your Heart," and "You're Always On My Mind" didn't make the playlist.
After a long intermission, an anxious crowd rumbled when the band took their spots just before 9:00. The rumble turned into a roar when the lights came up to reveal New Edition onstage shortly thereafter. Ronnie, Johnny, Ricky, Mike and Ralph were dressed impeccably in black and burgundy three-piece suits as they immediately jumped into "If It Isn't Love." The crowd roared once again when Bobby Brown joined in for "Hit Me Off" a couple of songs later.
The group then offered individual introductions, for which the ever-controversial Bobby Brown received the biggest response from the audience. The crowd was clearly appreciative to have all members present for the show -- especially in light of recent events (specifically Bobby's ex-wife Whitney Houston's unexpected passing).
New Edition's choreography was energetic and tightly-executed, from the old-school slides to the New-Jack era dances (who doesn't still love the "running man?"). Although the emphasis was on showmanship, the guys showed that they can still blow as well. Bobby and Johnny sound a bit more "raspy" or "husky" nowadays, but that's not a bad thing.
Most of the crowd spent the entire set on their feet as New Edition went through its biggest hits, along with solo material from Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill, Ralph Tresvant and Bell Biv DeVoe. Some of the earlier, bubble-gummier NE songs ("Popcorn Love," "Candy Girl") probably wouldn't hold up if it wasn't for the nostalgia factor. Other tracks from later in their career (When Will I See You Smile Again," "Can You Stand the Rain") withstand the test of time much better and have become true R&B classics.
A couple of memorable moments from the show: Bobby Brown engaged in some tongue-in-check scripted dialog regarding whether he was kicked out of the group, or if he left because he couldn't keep up with the dance moves. Also -- Johnny Gill may have bitten off more than he could chew when he pulled a voluptuous woman in a sequined blouse onstage for his latest single "In the Mood." She was throwing so much body at him that Bobby had to step in and give him a hand.
After profusely thanking the crowd for their support through the years, and getting in a few plugs (apparently they're all back in the studio, both as a group and separately), they ended the show with 1996's "Home Again."
Notes, photo and setlists are on the next page.
Right Here [Human Nature Remix] I'm So Into You Anything [Old Skool Mix] You're the One You're the One [Remix] If Only You Knew Co-Sign Weak
New Edition Setlist:
If It Isn't Love Crucial You're Not My Kind Of Girl Hit Me Off Jealous Girl Is This The End Popcorn Love Candy Girl Mr. Telephone Man Cool It Now My Secret (Didja Get It Yet) Count Me Out My, My, My -Johnny Gill Roni - Bobby Brown When Will I See You Smile Again Sensitivity - Ralph Tresvant Can You Stand The Rain NE Heartbreak In The Mood - Johnny Gill My Prerogative - Bobby Brown Do Me! - Bell Biv DeVoe Poison - Bell Biv DeVoe Home Again
Personal Bias: As a young kid, I can remember thinking of New Edition as being "for girls." I didn't pay much attention to them until the late 80's/early 90's when they started breaking off and doing their own things.
Overheard: "Hmmph - where'd Bobby go!?!" groaned an impatient fan in front of me. She grumbled this as she sat down during Johnny Gill's solo.