There’s a line I use sometimes which goes like this: Nostalgia’s not what it used to be, is it?” A rhetorical question, but it actually deserves an answer after last night’s triumphant show at Birmingham’s Arena, when the I Love The 90s show rolled in to town.
That answer is, yes. Nostalgia is very much alive and well, just ask the 4,000 folk digging it last night who would agree with me. The final night of a five date UK run which called in at Wembley SSE, London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Dublin and Birmingham – Belfast was cancelled.
A package show which has been filling huge arenas and stadiums across the USA, its first time across the pond here. A star-studded line-up of the biggest acts of the 90s; Vanilla Ice, Salt-N-Pepa with Spinderella, Coolio, Color Me Badd, Tone Loc and Young MC.
The Brum’ date saw a lot of the venue screened off, to accommodate the 4,000 people into a 16,000 capacity venue. But the folk who were here, a predominately white, middle aged female audience, made enough noise to fill the gaff. Just a handful in 90s gear. It was Saturday night, there was a bar and a lot of these people were recalling the days they boogied to this music in the clubs when these acts were topping the charts.
First up was Young MC, who hit the stage about 15 minutes later than the advertised start time, with giant screens behind him showing videos of the acts here in the flesh tonight. This was like an MTV party – a video in between the acts – and this guy was gonna get this mother funking party started.
Singing cuts from eight albums, his Grammy-winning smash hit “Bust A Move” did the trick, getting the whole crowd up on their feet. Not much effort needed to get the audience to to sing the lyric: “If you want it, you got it”, from his biggest hit. He made the most of his 15 minute set. The audience now nicely warmed up before Tone Loc made an appearance.
With two million-selling singles “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina”, Tone Loc was one of the early 90s biggest stars, with his Grammy and American Music Award-nominated album “Loc-ed After Dark” which became one of the most important rap albums of the 90s.
Tonight he turned in a pleasing set, his own music videos showing behind him, and after the crowd lapped up the superb “Funky Cold Medina”, he invited some eager ladies from the audience to join him on stage and add some dance moves to “This Roof Is On Fire”. I’ll bet the Deep Heat ointment has come in handy today! He threw in a Snoop Dogg track, “Gin and Juice” which may have prompted some to nip back to the bar to go for one of those two drinks!
New Jack Swing…
Color Me Badd, one of the first purveyors of the 90s new jack swing movement, and one of the original boy bands, had a smash hit with “I Wanna Sex You Up”, which probably caused a few red faces from Dads and teenagers in 1991. Their follow up hits “I Adore Mi Amore” and “All 4 Love” helped make them one of the biggest vocal groups in the world, topping the US chart and fame as far afield as Australia.
Tonight with a few years and perhaps a few inches too under their belt, they were in fine voice, and gave the crowd a great sing-a-long track with “I Wanna Sex You Up”, and they still have the slick dance moves too. The band joined Coolio in his set, to help him with his killer tune, “Gangsta’s Paradise”, also joined by a sax player for the song, to add to the atmosphere.
Coolio, real name Artis Leon Ivey Jr., is probably best known for that global hit, the highest selling single of 1995, hitting the #1 spot across the world, but his appearance on Celebrity Big Brother in 2009 brought him back into the collective consciousness over here in the UK. He palled up with Scottish politician Tommy Sheridan on the show and they have kept in touch.
In fact, when this tour dropped into Glasgow last weekend, Coolio and Tommy went to see a Celtic v Hibernian football match where Coolio was guest of honour. The rapper taking a lap of honour around the pitch draped in his green hooped scarf, and at half time he went on to the pitch to make the regular prize draw. The footie fans roared their approval at such an unlikely supporter among them for the day. Then he was off to do his show.
Tonight’s performance from Coolio was on point and his biggest hot blew the roof off. With just a quarter of an hour for his set, he ripped through some lesser known material, including the dance-floor fillers “ Fantastic Voyage” and “1,2,3,4 (Sumpin New)”, before THE hit. Then changing the tone with a minute’s silence for the victims of the recent Las Vegas shooting massacre.
Salt-N-Pepa and their girl Spinderella – Salt-N-Pepa – New Yorkers Cheryl James (“Salt”) and Sandra Denton (“Pepa”) Deidra Roper (“DJ Spinderella”) – were at least 35 minutes later than scheduled. No explanation given. They were given a one hour set, and they made full use of it.
Born entertainers, they invited anyone with a Salt-N-Pepa tee shirt up on stage to dance with them. Bare chested professional dancers cuddled up to the two star ladies first. They first said “sorry”, for getting anyone into trouble in their younger years with their parents, with their suggestive songs like “Let’s Talk About Sex”.
Their dynamite set was full of energy and fun, and they could have easily filled the headline spot, deservedly so, and I’d bet no one would have been upset. They have some really infectious and timeless songs like “‘Whattaman” and “Push it”, and those hits tonight sounded as fresh as ever. “Shoop” was a fab blast from the past too.
Pepa did suffer a slight wardrobe malfunction with an upper body part not staying put, if you know what I mean, but she coped admirably!
Rip Van Winkle, no…Robert…
The world’s most iconic female rap group, Salt-N-Pepa paved the way for other modern day female groups and rappers.
The first female rap artists to win a Grammy Award and their 1993 album “Very Necessary” remains the best-selling album from a female rap act.
Headline act tonight, arriving on stage about two minutes before the whole show was scheduled to end, Vanilla Ice, also getting a 60 minute spot.
The first hip hop artist to top the Billboard charts, Robert Van Winkle, aka Vanilla Ice is a rapper, actor and reality star.
One of the 90s most recognisable names, with his global crossover 1990 hit “Ice Ice Baby” crossing rap over to the mainstream. (I have avoided the predictable use of his famed lyric in this review, you know, the “collaborate” bit….)
His platinum record ‘To the Extreme’ is one of the highest selling rap albums of all time. Despite being known as a “one hit wonder”, he is in demand away from music, taking part in championship wrestling, appearing in reality series ‘Surreal Life’, cameos in a dozen films including ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’, appearing in Madonna’s infamous ‘SEX’ book and competing in the US “Dancing with the Stars”. I think he used to own and run bicycle shops at one time to, or have I made that up?
He told the audience he wrote his biggest hit when he was only 16, but one cheeky person near the front piped up: “Er, don’t you mean David Bowie and Freddie Mercury wrote it?” Awwwkward! He did some freestyle raps that were impressive, and his whole demeanour tonight was that of a creative force getting a second wind and not a burned out flame from yesteryear just going for the money.
His energy would put some modern day and much younger rappers to shame. Such charisma and stage presence; a real showman and a lot more to him than the one big hit. That said, his other successful single, “Play That Funky Music,” sounded cool tonight too, the hip-hop remake of the classic Wild Cherry song. He brings Coolio out to join him for a brace of songs, much to the crowd’s delight.
Mr Ice gets a few dozen of the crowd on stage for his showstopping hit, strobe lights flickering at his feet, smoke jets shooting up each side of him and confetti fired out onto the crowd at the end, as he sings “Too cold, too cold”. Nothing cold about this set and this entire night. As red hot as chilli peppers.
The whole night was as much fun as you can legally have with your clothes on, and after sold out shows across the USA and the UK up to tonight, it was amazing it was not rammed. But those lucky few thousand who showed up had a whale of a time, while those who stayed in to watch Strictly and the X Factor, most definitely drew the short straw. No contest.
Photographs: Jason Sheldon
Words: Simon Redley