The only way Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant's Heads of State concert at last night's Nokia Theater in New York could have been better is if it were a complete disaster. I went in there thrilled at the prospect of seeing Bobby (Johnny and Ralph are great, too, but they alone or even with the strangely absent Bell Biv Devoe, wouldn't have gotten me in there without Bobbaaaay). Of course, with the prospect of seeing Bobby comes the prospect of seeing Bobby high, and since I figured there was no way he could come close to the spunk of his be-Gumby'd heyday, seeing him vomit all over his legacy was the next best thing. Plus, you know, I still feel ripped off about never getting that second season of Being Bobby Brown, so I kinda wanted to watch it live.
It turns out that there is great joy to be had watching a seemingly sober Bobby (or close enough, considering the displays through the years that he's deemed fit for public consumption). His new-found respectable behavior was as weird as any drunken fit -- I never thought I'd see the day that Bobby would tell a female concertgoer to stop touching him as her hands flip-flopped around his crotch. Now I can die enriched, I suppose. The only truly cringe-worthy moment is the one you see above, when his back went out during a stripped-down version of "Jealous Girl." I'm not entirely convinced that this was sincere. It may have been just a bit of theater for our entertainment. In Bobby's head, is there even a difference between sincerity and theater at this point?
No matter, because the synergy of the two was otherwise apparent throughout the show, a 90-minute sprint through each party's solo hits (with Johnny's "My My My" the only truly bizarre exclusion) traded off in a cycle. Bobby would sing his (starting with "On Our Own"), then Ralph, then Johnny, and Bobby again and so on. All the while, the two who weren't singing lead performed backup. New Edition essentials peppered the setlist, with Bobby making explicit note of the N.E. tracks that were made after he left the group -- he talked about interpreting "With You All the Way" as Ralph's message to him ("But not like that!") and he straight-up left the stage during "If It Isn't Love" and "Can You Stand the Rain," only to soon return both times to provide spirited support. He doesn't hold a grudge; he just knows that a little tension never hurt any performance.
New Edition was never exactly technically impressive on any front, so little was lost in the transition from then to now. They could still pull off the dopey doo-wop-with-swagger dance moves, and their voices are better than they probably should be (Ralph sounded particularly well-preserved, as though he's now a recluse who lives amongst humidifiers). Johnny's a quarter-pounder and a few more my's away from looking bearishy cute, Bobby's as bloated as he was on Being Bobby Brown and Ralph's almost frighteningly thin, but the collective energy put forth in sync like their fellow '80s relics the Thundercats was enough to allay any worries, at least temporarily. If you need more than that, you're in the wrong decade.
Bobby's full performance of "Roni," perhaps my second favorite song of all time, is after the jump. I recommend at the very least skipping to 3:18 to watch what happens when his guitar talks. Be on the lookout for a rogue tongue.