You want a debate-sparking statement? Here it is: New Edition is worthy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And it took a New York stop during the immutable R&B group’s current concert tour this past Saturday (April 21st) to drive home that point. Yes, the over 5600 faithful fans who packed the Theater at Madison Square Garden have no doubt seen crisper and more energetic gigs from the veteran Boston act of Ronnie DeVoe, Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ralph Tresvant, and Johnny Gill. During New Edition’s 80’s prime they could effortlessly headline sold-out arena shows drawing more than 20,000 screaming fans on a nightly basis. And New Edition hasn’t enjoyed an across-the-board hit album since 1996’s critically acclaimed comeback set Home Again.
Yet on this evening, there was an enthusiastic, heartfelt crowd seemingly cheering and hanging on every note, choreographed step, laugh and knowing wink of six middle-aged men that refused to cheat their fans. The proverbial “left-it-all-out-on-the-floor” cliché certainly applied during New Edition’s spirited two-hour performance. “How many of y’all been rocking with New Edition for 29 years?!!!” exclaims DeVoe. The response from fans was deafening. Perhaps the crowd understood the immense musical and cultural impact of a vocal group that has influenced three generations of performers in the realms of soul, pop, and hip-hop. It was all there on display during the roll-out to New Edition’s 30th anniversary next year.
Axl Rose may have denied the chance for the public to witness the much anticipated reunion of the original lineup of ballsy rock rebels Guns N’ Roses—who led the 2012 April class that included the Beastie Boys and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And we can rant on and on about how Rush, Donna Summers, Chic, Duran Duran, Janet Jackson, and LL Cool J are among the notable snubs that scream induction. But with nearly 30 years in the business, New Edition is more than a legacy of double platinum albums, solo acclaim and a legion of imitators and followers. N.E.’s time-traveling gig offered all the proof needed that this criminally underrated act deserves a seat next to the likes of the Jackson 5, Temptations, and the O’Jays. And here’s why.—Keith Murphy