The group that plays together, slays together.
That was the takeaway message Friday night as beloved Boston vocal group New Edition returned to the members’ hometown for the first time in years to spread a little soul pop love at the Agganis Arena.
This outing has been dubbed the “#AllSix” tour to celebrate the fact that every member of the still suave sextet was participating. And whenever Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe, Johnny Gill — who originally joined as a replacement for Brown — and Ralph Tresvant were onstage together during the 90-minute set it was a joyous eruption of sweet harmony and synchronized hoofing.
New Edition, who marked their 30th anniversary in 2013, took the excited crowd of 4,200 fans through their musical evolution from giddy kiddie bubblegum soul ditties to funky urban jams to smooth adult R&B ballads.
But that journey was taken in fits in starts when, after a triumphant entrance by the entire group, the show was quickly divided into fractions of a 1/6, a 1/2, 2/3, and 5/6. (And, for unexplained reasons, Brown disappeared completely about 3/4 of the way through the show, not even returning for a final bow under the “#AllSix” image beaming from the video screen.)
There’s no begrudging Gill, Brown, and Tresvant their solo turns in the spotlight as each have had success going it alone and acquitted themselves well.
Gill may have gone a bit over the top with the hooting and hollering on his exclamatory “My, My, My” but his enthusiasm was admirable. Tresvant showed off his still often silky vocals as much as his abs during his bit which included “Sensitivity.” A hoarse Brown sounded like he either blew his voice out during the tour’s first show the previous night or has simply damaged it over the years, but seemed to enjoy being onstage, until his vanishing act. Although his rougher vocals worked well on the group numbers he participated in like the pleading “Mr. Telephone” man, his solo set left more to be desired vocally and he curiously skipped big hits like “My Prerogative” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”
The crowd was particularly excited when Bell Biv DeVoe did their new jack swing thing on tunes like “Do Me!”and “B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me)?” as an equally stoked band provided the bass-heavy musical accompaniment.
But it was telling that the night’s most thrilling moments came when the group played together, or mostly together. The trio of BBD and Tresvant sassily stepped and sang through classics like “Cool It Now” and “Count Me Out” still as light on their feet as ever as video images of their tween selves appeared onscreen above them.
The peak came near the end with Gill rejoining for the sleek ballad “Can You Stand the Rain,” BBD and Tresvant boosting Gill’s solo hit “Rub You the Right Way” to a higher level and Gill and Tresvant ecstatically pumping up BBD’s “Poison,” before all five guys crushed the sounds and steps of “If It Isn’t Love” in an exhilarating closer.
Beyond a shout out to their home turf in Roxbury, the men didn’t do much in the way of bantering with the audience, but Tresvant did address the crowd near the show’s end, saying how thrilled they were to be back, promising that new music is in the pipeline, and assuring that they won’t wait so long to come home again.