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New Edition and Babyface take a big crowd on a nostalgic journey

New Edition performed before a crowd of several thousand people Tuesday at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence.
New Edition performed before a crowd of several thousand people Tuesday at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence. Invision/The Associated Press

When they launched their brand of pop/R&B/hip-hop at the brink of the 1980s, there was something new about New Edition. It wasn’t necessarily original —– they were envisioned as a new Jackson 5 — but it was fresh, and it inspired a gush of boy bands that would flood the pop and R&B charts for the ensuing decade and beyond.

Tuesday night, the current edition of New Edition performed at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence. They drew a crowd of several thousand, and they filled the arena with invigorating and catchy dance/R&B rhythms and melodies that prompted most fans to sing along and submit to the music’s irresistible grooves. This was a sit-down show — there were chairs on the arena floor — but many people were on their feet, swaying and dancing, all night.

The quintet comprising Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ronnie DeVoe, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant was backed by a four-piece band and a DJ. For nearly 90 minutes, they danced and sang their way through music that spans more than 30 years. The choreography was lively and tight, if not precise, all night, and vocally all five were strong.

The set list included some covers, including the Carpenters’ “Superstar” and Luther Vandross’ “If Only for One Night.” It also plumbed New Edition’s long lists of hits and the Bell Biv DeVoe catalog, songs such as “Hit Me Off,” “Crucial,” “Do Me,” “My, My, My,” “Poison,” “When Will I See You Smile Again?” and “Can You Stand the Rain.”

Toward the end of the show, the group went all the way back to the early 1980s and its earliest boy-band hits, pop/R&B confections such as “Candy Girl,” “Popcorn Love” and “Telephone Man.” As the quintet performed with much enthusiasm, the video screens behind the group broadcast the videos to each song, arousing more nostalgia and sentimentality.

The show’s opener also revived nostalgia. Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds spent an hour reminding the crowd how many hit songs he wrote and produced. Backed by a six-piece band, he rolled through a set list that included “Never Keeping Secrets,” “I Promise,” “Whip Appeal,” “Exceptional,” “We’ve Got Love” and a cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

Edmonds also reminded the crowd of songs he wrote that were hits for other artists, performing a medley that included “Rock Steady”; the lovely “Slow Jam,” a hit for Midnight Star; and “We’re Not Making Love No More” and “These Are the Times,” hits for Dru Hill.

It also included the libidinous “I’ll Make Love to You,” a hit for Boyz II Men more than 20 years ago. That includes the lyric “We’re gonna celebrate, all through the night,” a sentiment that aptly describes the mood in the arena all night.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

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