Birmingham Arena 7/10/2017

Birmingham is a bitch for traffic.

With that and the fact we got lost finding the venue because it goes by three different names - not to mention that we didn’t know that the show started early at 6:00pm - when we actually arrive, what greets us is the opening bars of ‘Gansta’s Paradise’. This is obviously going to be Coolio’s last song so thank goodness that there doesn’t seem to be a full house, making it easy enough to get through the room to gawp. After all, this is really what occasions like this are for, aren’t they? Part club PA, part curiosity, I’m not sure that anyone here is actually a diehard Coolio fan – I mean, can you name more than two of his songs? Regardless, it’s hard to not know who he is; instantly recognisable for his mad professor braided pigtails poking through his hat, Coolio is flanked by live drums and a small band of rappers to make for a more artistic performance as he walks through the shadow of the valley of death, takes a look at his life and realises there’s nothing left. Except there is, Coolio. Although this show is clearly not sold out, those that are here are fully entertained, mainly for the kitsch nostalgia but also because you are still good at what you do, even when you take your hat off and you’re completely bald apart from said pigtails. Sorry that we missed Color Me Badd and Tone Loc though. What do you mean you don’t remember them?

I have been waiting since I was six years old to see Salt N Pepa (and Spinderella, of course) so I hope I don’t have to wait much longer as a VJ plays a random selection of R and B that I had completely forgotten about when Coolio exits the stage. This and the X-Factor style introduction to the Brooklyn trio reinforces the slightly dodgy club appearance atmosphere of this evening, though thankfully not detracting from what they have achieved in a career spanning over three decades. Yes, Salt N Pepa have been around for 31 years, something that most people forget in the face of more recently documented reality shows, domestic abuse and so on; they have won Grammys for some of the biggest hiphop tracks, for Christ’s sake. Do they even NEED to be on this tour? Or has the sass that sustained them fizzled out? The answer is most definitely ‘hell no’. Three strong women who have not lost touch with their hiphop roots but don’t take themselves too seriously either, they are nothing short of captivating. They tease the male dancers, flirt with audience members that they get up on stage, work the crowd like it’s the early eighties – in short, Salt, Pepa and Spinderella are still completely on top of their game.

Playing a lot of material from their early catalogue is rather surreal because I haven’t heard some of the tracks for years, when my older brothers were getting into their vinyl and, though they deny it now, ‘Salt With A Deadly Pepa’ was amongst their first purchases. I remember dancing about to ‘Shake Your Thang’, ‘Express Yourself’ and ‘I’ll Take Your Man’ and it is bizarre to be in a room full of people that no doubt also emulated the moves and the clothes (though probably not the hairstyles), looking around at each other to see what we have all become. Salt proclaims that she’s sorry for getting us in trouble for talking about sex and pushing it real good when we were little. The weird thing is that, now in their late forties/ early fifties, Salt, Pepa and Spinderella don’t look much different, their clearly solid friendship a bond that adds to their performance – having shared so much, they still know how to have fun and appear to truly love doing that they do together. Spinderella plays a DJ set including Nirvana, and their own live drummer and finishing rap of ‘None of your Business’ shows that they are an act who cross the boundaries to rock and when ‘Whatta Man’, ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ and, of course, ‘Push It’ end the show, I wonder what their career holds for them going forwards because they are as fresh as they ever were, showing that they don’t actually need gimmicks like this at all.

In fact, I find it impossible to understand why they are not headlining and suspect everyone else does too. Still, considering that Vanilla Ice had only ‘agreed’ to two ten-minute interviews on just one of the tour dates, you get the sense that his ego is more than a little inflated. Most of the audience leave when he comes on. Maybe they can’t remember what songs he’s done anyway, ‘Ice Ice Baby’ aside. Maybe it’s the fact that he is wearing a stars and stripes top and his show is turning into a really odd experience. Covering tracks from Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’ to Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’, the fans onstage take selfies with him or grind up against him in a slightly sleazy, slightly desperate performance. And when he eventually wraps himself in the Union Jack, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry tears of pity because he looks genuinely thrilled with the reaction he gets from the now half empty room. I laugh, obviously. And then try and blank it out of my memory by humming ‘Shoop’.

Words and Pix - Anna C

Thanks to Sacha for getting us in and to the hubby for driving us to Birmingham.