At the Essence Fest on Sunday in the Superdome, Ralph Tresvant, Bobby Brown, Michael Bivins, Ricky Bell, Ronnie DeVoe and Johnny Gill reconvened in matching white dinner jackets over black vests and slacks. They were obviously well-rehearsed for the first show of their latest reunion. Arrayed in a line of six microphone stands, they stepped, spun and dipped in precise unison. Their harmonies were also spot-on.
Even Bobby Brown, New Edition’s prodigal son, was on target. “I’m the crazy one out the bunch,” Brown confessed, a point not lost on viewers of his “Being Bobby Brown” reality show with equally troubled ex-wife Whitney Houston.
Brown’s solo set at the 2006 Essence-in-exile in Houston was a mess; the curtain, literally, was dropped on him, much to his displeasure. What he apparently requires is the structure and support provided by his peers; though still a loose cannon, he didn’t fire wildly.
His voice is now a rasp, but he gamely croaked his parts on “Jealous Girl,” “Mr. Telephone Man” and elsewhere, never missing a cue. The current state of his voice was better suited for “My Prerogative,” his signature solo hit.
There was some good-natured debate about the circumstances of his original departure from the group. He insisted “ya’ll gave me the boot” – an exaggerated kick emphasized his point – while the others maintained he quit. Regardless, they are reunited, and it felt so good. “I’m so glad to be back on stage with my brothers,” Brown said.
The New Edition catalog is deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness of the Essence audience; much of that audience stood and sang along for the entire set. So it went through “Cool It Now,” “Count Me Out,” Gill’s solo hit “My My My,” “When Will I See You Smile Again,” and the especially Jackson 5-like “Candy Girl.”
Gill, who joined the group after Brown’s mid-‘80s departure, briefly left the stage to the original lineup. He returned so the six voices could bind together in “Poison,” a hit for New Edition spinoff Bell Biv DeVoe.
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