Gamut! Magazine
Brian McKnight and New Edition at the Taj Mahal

By Mike McGranaghan

January 15, 2005 – ATLANTIC CITY, NJ To celebrate Martin Luther King Day, the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City held a special concert in its arena. R&B singer Brian McKnight appeared in support of his new CD “Gemini” (released on February 8). Opening for him was legendary group New Edition, which has just reunited for a new album entitled “One Love.” The event was an interesting and pleasing double bill that made for a night full of great music.

If you’ve never been to the Taj, all you need to know is that it’s perhaps the most opulent hotel/casino in Atlantic City. There is a grandeur to the place that instinctively draws people to it. Millions of light bulbs illuminate the exterior so that it is literally the brightest building on the boardwalk. Inside, thousands of slot machines light up, make noise, and flash brilliantly. If you get bored gambling, there are restaurants of all kinds within, from a Hard Rock Café to a Safari Steakhouse. A stroll through the upstairs corridors reveals several high-end clothing shops, a nightclub, and multiple ballrooms (one of which was holding an I-pod convention on this particular weekend).

Unsurprisingly, the Taj currently has an exhibit on display promoting owner Donald Trump’s TV show “The Apprentice.” A bank of televisions plays past episodes of the show on a continuous loop, while a replica of the famous boardroom is located nearby. Guests can pose for pictures free of charge.

The 5,000-seat auditorium in the Taj Mahal was packed for the concert. When New Edition took the stage, a thunderous roar filled the room. Although they had not performed together in years, the crowd had an obvious feeling of good will toward the group. Dressed in matching white outfits, New Edition performed an hour-long set that encompassed not only their own hits, but also the solo hits of each member. After kicking the show into high gear with “Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, Mike, Ralph and Johnny (Word to the Mutha!)”- Bell Biv Devoe’s name-dropping salute to New Edition’s members – the group went old school with 80’s hits “Mr. Telephone Man” and “Candy Girl.”

A quick shout-out was given to former member Bobby Brown, who presumably was not invited to attend due to his ongoing substance abuse problems. Then it was back to the hits, including a first-rate rendition of “Can You Stand the Rain?” Finally, it was time to mine the solo hits. Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” was a crowd-pleaser. Ralph Tresvant then took center stage for his solo song “Sensitivity.”

It was Johnny Gill who really fired things up, though. Singing his hit “My, My, My,” Gill wiped his sweat with a towel and flung it into the audience. Two women sitting up front each got hold of a corner and began fighting each other for possession of the towel. At one point, the tussle grew so intense that both women were nearly knocked to the floor. One of the New Edition members – it was hard to tell who when observing the fracas – hollered that there were plenty more towels where that one came from. At last, one of the women emerged victorious. In order to keep her rival from getting the prized possession, the woman ran down the arena’s aisle, waving the towel triumphantly.

For their grand finale, New Edition performed one of their most popular songs: “If It Isn’t Love.” The crowd went nuts; it was the song everyone was waiting for. As they had the entire show, New Edition performed with an incredible amount of energy. In addition to their music, the group has always been known for choreography. The dance moves displayed on this night can only be described as hot. Aside from Michael Bivins’ frequent shoelace problems, the evening was a seamless display of smooth moves. Combined with a tight band and excellent vocals, it was safe to say that New Edition was better than ever.

A half hour later, the lights dimmed and a video screen at the back of the stage flickered on. The crowd saw none other than Jamie Foxx, seated at a piano. The actor spent a couple minutes celebrating Brian McKnight as someone “who will make you fall in love” and implying that McKnight’s music was particularly good to listen to in the bedroom. The video ended with Foxx introducing McKnight while sandwiched between two attractive women who, we were led to assume, would be listening to some Brian McKnight CDs with Foxx as soon as the camera was shut off. The audience loved this tongue-in-cheek introduction, but loved it even more when the star of the evening stepped onto the stage.

Although known primarily for smooth ballads, McKnight reinterpreted a few of his own songs by setting them to backgrounds of current hip-hop hits, including Terror Squad’s “Lean Back” and 50 Cent’s “In Da Club.” Like New Edition, the singer was backed by an excellent band while he played keyboards and electric guitar.

McKnight announced that the evening’s theme was “relationships” and he proceeded to give often-humorous perspectives on the subjects of his songs. He said that “Your Song” – a cut from his new CD – was written for an ex-girlfriend who, after dating him for three months, demanded to know why he’d never written a song for her. As soon as she asked, he claimed to have dumped her. It’s hard to know whether that anecdote was true or just a sarcastic bit of stage banter, but it got a big laugh.

In the course of his 75-minute set, McKnight performed old favorites such as “My Kind of Girl” (which featured Justin Timberlake singing backup on the video screen) and introduced new songs such as “What We Do Here.” There were two musical highlights in the already spectacular evening. One was the live rendition of the hit “Love of My Life” which visibly put the audience in a romantic mood (and which, incidentally, was the first song my wife and I danced to at our wedding). The other was McKnight’s debut of “Every Time You Go Away” – the first single from the new CD. In classic romantic mode, McKnight’s song details the feeling you get when you can’t stand to be away from the one you love, even when they’re just going to work or to the store. The lyrics are:

I hate to see you go even though I know when you’re coming back/It’s hard to breathe without you girl, and baby that’s a fact/I know sometimes you have to leave but I wish that you could stay/Every time you go away

The song concluded with an extended guitar solo performed while a giant disco ball swirled little pinpoints of light around the auditorium. It was one of those magical moments of live performance where you feel like there’s magic coming off the stage. McKnight’s gift truly is to make passionate, romantic music. There was no doubt during the performance that “Every Time You Go Away” marked the musician at his very best.

Brian McKnight and New Edition have both had long careers in the music business. It this day and age of disposable pop singers, it was refreshing to see two performers who have stood the test of time. The Taj Mahal concert was a reminder that the best music is the music that we make lasting memories to. New Edition captured the beat of a new generation, while McKnight has created song after song dedicated to the many feelings associated with falling love. Their music means a lot to millions of people. How nice to know that both acts are just as vital and exciting as ever.

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