'90s concert fun, uneven

Good times, those 1990s. Maybe the date digits crossed a line almost 18 years ago, but the music still jumps the borders of time. Who doesn't love the '90s, when all guilty pleasures are admitted?

When the I Love The '90s Tour made a Prince George stop on Sunday night at CN Centre, it popped a surreal cork. There is no way anyone would ever have imagined in the heat of that decade that the likes of Salt-N-Pepa or C+C Music Factory would ever come to perform in our little city so far away from the hiphop sprawls of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. But it happened.

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Any decade with that many miles on it will have some rust and dented fenders. This was not a pristine concert experience.

It was crazy having such big gaps between the two headline acts, Salt-N-Pepa and Vanilla Ice, when all the crew had to do was set up a drum set and a turntable suite each time.

It was tedious to have so many "put your hands in the air and wave 'em like you just don't care" sessions, and "let's make some noooooise" proclamations, as if those were the only ways to whip up an audience.

But it was a great package of artists. Every one of them took up airtime in the very hot hiphop market back in the day. And the show started out exactly as it should have gone, one act dropping their best tracks and making way for the next. It only got bogged down after Rob Base's set when too much was made of the final pair of acts.

Salt-N-Pepa were the highlights of the evening, in terms of concert appeal. They had more than one or two hits, they were certified groundbreakers for women and for subject matter back when all this was new to mainstream America (no, uptight suburbia and regressive conservative rural U.S.A. did not at all want to talk about sex, ba-by), and they have substantiated their staying power. But was it their mission to say 31 times that they'd been at it for 31 years? And how many times did we have to hear that their spinner was DJ Spinderella? Got it the first four times, thanks.

And why, when they were stratospherically popular during their reign atop the pop charts, was C+C Music Factory condensed to opening the show with only Freedom Williams on stage? Shouldn't we have at least had Martha Wash (the female vocalist on the recordings) or Zelda Davis (the female vocalist on the tours) on stage as well? And shouldn't this have been the big feature set before Vanilla Ice, with a full fist of mega-hits to the name? It was more like C+C Karaoke Factory, as it was.

But hey, these are just idle curiosities. Freedom Williams sounded good and the songs are irresistible.

It was great to see Base have a place in this group, since he was really more of an '80s artist but hey, the '90s had to come from somewhere. Base was a groundbreaker for all those fly hiphop acts who closed out the millennium. He and the late, great DJ E-Z Rock were among the first to put rap and sample-jams on the charts with the hit joint It Takes Two in 1988, then they demonstrated the musicality of hiphop with their smash hit Joy And Pain which had singing, yes singing, as the central hook.

The biggest surprise and best segment of the night for me personally was Young MC. The dude can cash in a rap. Most people, myself included, know him only from the smash tune Bust A Move, but he flexed some extra muscles during his set. He has other tracks, he has been creatively busy outside of that '90s limelight, and his other numbers were talented and worthy. I was disappointed to see his segment end.

Vanilla Ice also had to puff up his set. Yes, he had Ninja Rap from back when he was in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and he had Play The Funky Music White Boy which borrowed heavily from the original Wild Cherry song, but we were all there to hear Ice Ice Baby which is, in all fairness, one of the transcendent rap songs of all time.

Vanilla Ice gave us a block party. Like Salt-N-Pepa, he had no problem bringing scads of people up on stage with him, speaking freely and at length with the audience and giving plenty of interaction. It was a silly in some ways, but also charming. And the man can seriously perform. He did not come across as the grotesquely self-obsessed pretty boy of 1989-90 when To The Extreme broke all previous hiphop album sales records. Today's Vanilla Ice has chunky vocals, smooth timing and plenty of comfort with the audience.

It was a comical novelty that these acts all came at once to Prince George and one of the best takeaways was how talented these people really are underneath the flashy clothes and sampled music.

I'm not pining for this show to return anytime soon, but it was fun once (and I can now say I've scored the Ice rap-trick. I've seen Ice T, Ice Cube and now Vanilla) and I've been imagining how great it would be for an all-Canadian version to happen one day.

Imagine it: Maestro Fresh Wes, Snow, Michie Mee, MCJ & Cool G, Dream Warriors, Love & Sas, Kish - it could be brilliant.

Loving the '90s has no borders.

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