If you feel like the '90s were just a little too recent to be looking back on with generational fondness, you’re wrong. At the I Love The '90s tour at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Friday night, an age-and-reference specific dance party ensued, in which everyone, and I mean almost everyone, actually danced to the likes of Tone Loc, Coolio, Kid 'n Play, Salt-n-Pepa, and Vanilla Ice. Admittedly, the experience felt slightly voyeuristic, watching those who came of age in the era during which I was born diving wholeheartedly into the soundtracks of their childhoods. A freak monsoon on the I-10 sidetracked us on our way to Phoenix from Tucson and we missed both Young MC's (now a Scottsdale resident) and Coolio’s 15-minute sets, coming in just as Tone Loc capped off his last crowd callback of the evening, standing in the middle of a sparse stage with just a small video screen and risers as its only notable features.
It is baffling that Christopher Reid and Christopher "Play" Martin of Kid 'n Play are both over 50 years old — judging by their performance they've barely aged a day. The duo delivered a “classic hip-hop” barrage in their first 10 minutes, rapping with a prolonged quickness that could outlast most of their modern contemporaries, especially on "Do This My Way." These guys can still spit and maintain cadence without interruption, even if their stage antics can be a little kitschy at times. They know it too, poking fun at themselves with jokes about being “sponsored by Just For Men, Bengay, and Icy Hot, but not Viagra.”
The evening’s high point, in terms of crowd reaction and artistry, was Salt-n-Pepa. A couple of backup dancers on stage felt slightly contrived, as the duo is dynamic enough to stand on their own after 30 years together; a fact they pointed out, thanking their "shakers." "Let's Talk About Sex" looked to be the first track anyone around us really knew, and with a sprinkling of crowd interplay elements prior to the penultimate "Push It," including a Guns N' Roses singalong, DJ Spinderella's turntables went down, resulting in a short intermission. Once back online, Spinderella’s grooves worked hand-in-hand with Cheryl “Salt” James’ killer flow. The DJs of the I Love The '90s tour should be commended with the same aplomb as the performers; it was killer seeing actual turntables and vinyl for an entire show, the DJs slipping in and out with the acts they accompanied.
For “Whatta Man,” Salt-n-Pepa invited all willing male participants get on stage, resulting in some absolutely comical moves, including one heavily tattooed dude who removed his shirt and delivered a dance worthy of all the jumbotron time he got. Riotous applause broke out for the opening lines of “Push It,” and the duo even donned the jackets for the song, jumping in with both feet for the most lively performance of their set by far. This is likely bolstered by the song's recent inclusion in a certain insurance advertising campaign, but it was a worth it to get a glimpse of what kind of airtime power this song must have had upon its release.
Before Vanilla Ice even came on, vinyl banners shilling his home-flipping HGTV show, The Vanilla Ice Project, were set up, flanking the stage as a general reminder that yes, this may be a cash grab, milking relativity while the '90s are culturally en vogue in certain artistic channels. With a DJ, live drummer, and a pair of clowns befitting an ICP show (he's now on ICP's Psychopathic Records, after all), Ice’s set promised to have the most stage production of any yet. His machine gun-wielding cherub logo was thrown onscreen, a modern trap beat was laid down and Ice came out swinging, rapping as he ran onto the stage. His delivery is, dare I say it, driving and strong, belying his age at times. This is a guy who still acts every part the rock star whether you like it or not.
But this is still a crowd, and still a place for promotion for Vanilla Ice. After slipping in mentions about his show and a couple songs on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack, Ice brought out the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to join his clowns. Inexplicably, Robocop made an appearance as well, and I had to try to remember if I had done acid or not before heading to this show.
An all-call for an onstage dance party, in which only women suspiciously made it to the stage, segued into "Ice, Ice, Baby," the predictably quintessential moment of the night. Ice took the opportunity to take selfies, as he had done at other times during the set, capped off the song with a reminder that "it's not about Donald Trump, it's not about Hillary, it's about the United States of America," and that was it. He performed for no less than 28 minutes, leaving a crowd of middle-aged women onstage to awkwardly dance to yet another trap beat as everyone fled the arena. Lil Jon's "Turn Down For What" filled the air as Ice continued to talk about his love for taking selfies to no one in particular, the arena almost empty as he took photos with his stage dancers as they left one by one. It felt weirdly existential, sticking around to watch the party struggle to go on, a quaint reminder that sometimes nostalgia isn’t as cheap, nor often as good as you remember it being.
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Last Night: I Love The '90s at Talking Stick Resort Arena
The Crowd: Some 50-somethings, some 40-somethings, and 30-somethings en masse, most dressed like they just had just dropped the kids off at Saturday swimming practice, though some were decked out in the best attire of the era.
Random Notebook Dump: Overheard walking through the concourse, en route to Kid 'N Play's set: "It looks like a Wal-Mart in here."