Close Encounters

Spice Girls shrewdly work every angle at Desert Sky

But such missteps barely qualified as pebbles in Posh's pumps. For if ever there was a Teflon pop phenomenon, the Spice Girls are it. They survived a swift media backlash in England, even adopting the derisive nicknames of Scary, Sporty, Ginger, Baby and Posh for themselves. They survived the mediocre feature film Spice World, which failed to satisfy all but their most diehard fans, yet hardly lost them an ounce of good will. Now, they seem to be riding out the fallout of Geri "Ginger Spice" Halliwell's abrupt departure before this tour began.

Playing the part of the naughty-but-protective older sister, Halliwell had established herself as arguably the best-loved Spice. Every young girl I spoke to at Desert Sky named Ginger as her favorite group member, yet none seemed too distraught that she was no longer with the group. At intermission, one girl expressed the hope that Ginger might actually come out and join the band in the second half of the show.

For their part, the Spice Girls got as much mileage out of Ginger's memory as they could, with video footage of her that consistently drew roars from the crowd, and her prominent inclusion in the tour program, which presumably could not be altered in time for the tour.

The latest hurdles facing the Spice Girls are the concurrent pregnancies of Posh and Scary. Though Posh moved somewhat cautiously (but that's why they call her Posh, isn't it?), she was still sleek in her tiny gold dresses, and Scary didn't shy away from her usual midriff-baring ensembles.

If the group's most likable quality is its ability to shirk off contemptuous critics (the latest of which is Boy George, who recently branded them "awful"), its most annoying trait is an insistence on claiming that a few dance-pop hits and a fondness for clogs add up to Girl Power, an implied feminism with no coherent manifesto. When they tried to attach themselves to Princess Di only days after her death by claiming that she was the ultimate symbol of Girl Power, it was a bit too much to stomach.

But whatever Girl Power means, it's a pretty potent force to this group's preteen army. Near the end of the show, the group--in matching white suits--locked arms for the unity anthem "Viva Forever." Near the end of the song, the relentlessly ebullient Sporty broke into a high vamp, singing, "Spice Girls forever."

The crowd went nuts, their every Girl Power fantasy confirmed. Moments later, the quartet walked up the steps to their "spaceship" and disappeared into the hot desert night. A few young girls could be heard shouting, "Come back, come back." It wasn't that they wanted an encore, per se. They just wanted the Spice Girls to take them along for the ride.

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