It all began with so much promise.
Rapper Tone Loc – wearing an LA Dodgers cap, dark shades, baggy jeans and a T-shirt bearing the likenesses of Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama – strode onto the stage at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center Sunday night and used his more-gravelly-than-ever voice to serviceably re-create the old-school hip-hop gem “Funky Cold Medina.”
This is exactly the type of trip down memory lane the thousands in attendance had hoped to make when they bought their tickets to the nostalgia tour known as “I Love the ’90s.”
But three hours and 41 minutes later (yes, the show lasted roughly the length of “Gone With the Wind”), that promise was long gone. And while the show certainly had its moments, it also was sometimes cringe-inducing, often-frustrating, and ultimately just downright bizarre.
Where to even begin? Well, OK, let’s start with the basics, for those who weren’t there: The concept brought together a half-dozen acts best-known as ’90s hip-hop icons; in order, that’d be Tone Loc, Color Me Badd, Coolio, Rob Base, Salt-n-Pepa and Vanilla Ice.
Of course, if we’re being sticklers, Color Me Badd is an R&B group and not anything resembling a hip-hop group. But the bigger reason they didn’t belong is that they’re not just Badd – they’re really, really, really Badd.
C.M.B. had three monster hits in 1991: “All 4 Love,” “I Adore Mi Amor,” “I Wanna Sex You Up.” On Sunday night, those songs sounded like they were being sung by monsters. All I wrote in my notebook while lead singer Bryan Abrams worked up a flop sweat while going a cappella at the end of “I Wanna Sex You Up” was “dying cat.”
And when Kevin “K.T.” Thornton and Mark Calderon did sound like their smooth selves from the old days while “harmonizing,” it was only because they were lip-synching (badly).
Plus, if they’re only going to be on stage for 10 minutes, is it even worth it?
Fortunately, on both sides of Color Me Badd, Tone Loc and Coolio each spent 20 minutes taking a workmanlike approach to their biggest hits. Loc played the ladies’-man role with tongue-in-cheek aplomb, and Coolio propped himself with a couple of pretty decent musicians (including a sax player known simply as Jarez who closed Coolio’s 1997 hit “C U When U Get There” with an impressive solo).
Batting fourth, Rob Base also acquitted himself nicely with a strong rendition of legendary party hit “It Takes Two.”
But then Salt-n-Pepa took the stage, and frustration began to set in. While Cheryl “Salt” James, Sandra “Pepa” Denton and Deidra “Spinderella” Roper still have that natural chemistry and smooth sound after three decades together, and although James in particular still oozes star quality at 50 years old, I was tearing out what little hair I have left on my head by the end of their 45-minute set.
Salt-n-Pepa were crushing 1994’s “Whatta Man” – their biggest hit ever – but stopped midway through to spend several minutes inviting fans onstage, before continuing. Then they started 1993’s “Shoop” – their second-biggest hit ever – but interrupted themselves again, for some chatter that drained much of the momentum.
They also wasted time dancing around to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” House of Pain’s “Jump” and Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” when they could have used the time to perform the various S-n-P Top-40 hits they left out of their set.
To top it all off, James committed an embarrassing gaffe while revealing that three-time Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte was among the fans who’d been invited on stage.
“Pep, we got silver medalist Ryan Lochte on the stage!” she crowed, after which the guy who did his training for Rio in Charlotte immediately leaned in. “Oh, he just corrected me: gold medalist. I’m sorry, baby.”
Lochte – who may himself one day wind up in an “I Love the ’10s” program of some sort – hung out in the front row for most of the night with his fiancee Kayla Reid, and likely was drawn to the concert by de facto headliner Vanilla Ice. The two became pals during the most recent season of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
And it was Vanilla Ice who single-handedly sucked almost all the life out of the concert, with a bizarre and seemingly endless set that also included some of the strangest banter I’ve ever heard.
I mean, if we’re being honest, Salt-n-Pepa should have been the closers. They have eight top-40 hits and two top fives. Vanilla Ice essentially has made just two songs of significance: “Play That Funky Music” and “Ice Ice Baby.”
So he filled his hour with kitsch like the “Ninja Rap” (from 1991 flick “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze”) and covers of songs like M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” (which is not from the ’90s but from 2008); Jidenna’s “Classic Man” (which is not from the ’90s but from 2015); and DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What” (which is not from the ’90s but from 2013).
As for the rapper’s odd comments, try this on for size – it’s a direct, unedited quote: “Make some noise for our soldiers in the house! Hell yeah! We got the Army, the Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard in the house. Tonight, respect the military. Thank you for your service. Thank you for our freedom. And I want everybody to know, it’s not about Donald Trump, it’s not about Hillary. It’s about us.
“We’re the American citizens. We run this country! They work for us! And I want you all to remember one other thing right now, while we’re on it. We are all one. Remember that. We are all one – four strong words. If a meteorite hits right now, we all die! Remember that! Love your neighbor! Love everybody in this world! Because smiles are contagious. Smile y’all. It’s the holidays. They’re contagious, man. You only live once. Love life.
“And give the f------ cops a taser gun, already! All lives matter! Every single life matters! Word to your mother. And word to all the people who have made babies since ‘Ice Ice Baby! Make some noise! It’s all about family and friends, man. That’s the meaning of life. That’s the meaning of the holidays. So happy holidays to everybody here tonight.”
It got even stranger. At the end of “Ice Ice Baby,” a massive confetti shower was unleashed, which is a typical sign that a show is over. He kept going, though, as fans filed out by the thousands.
By 10:30 p.m., as he blazed through “Turn Down For What,” only about 300 fans were left in the arena. By 10:40, as he sang Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” (also not from the ’90s), the house lights came up. A few minutes later, as he segued into Marley’s “Redemption Song” (also not from the ’90s), stagehands started tearing down the set.
And when he finally, mercifully waved goodbye at 10:47, I wondered how many of those who had arrived four hours earlier absolutely loving the ’90s were now heading home only kinda-sorta liking them...