Sunday, January 6, 2008

Gig review: Spice Girls at the O2

One of the curious effects of all these pop reunions is that you find yourself revisiting decade-old emotions while listening to music that, at the time, had no effect on your psyche whatsoever.

So it is with the Spice Girls, whose harmless ditties about friendship, girl power, and having a lovely mum now bring to mind my postgraduate degree in the North-West's most depressing city, Preston. It was the worst year of my life - stuck in a desolate hole where, if it wasn't raining, it was blowing a force ten gale and raining.

Which is weird because, at the time, the Spices were the one beacon of light in a musical landscape otherwise dominated by Kula Shaker, the Lightning Seeds and Celine fucking Dion.

The question at tonight's gig was whether I'd be able to get over my Preston flashbacks (dear Jesus, the relentless drizzle) and remember the good time party band the nation clutched so firmly to its busom.

In the end, the band make it quite easy to blow the cobwebs away with their ebullient, sparkling stage presence. Not to mention the set-opening triple whammy of Spice Up Your Life, Stop and Say You'll Be There.

"It's great to see so many people here on a Sunday," yells Geri - by far the most excited returning Spicette. "Let's have a party! Fuck work!".

"Geri," scolds Mel B, "I've told you before to watch your language. There's kids here."

"Oh yeah," Ginger replies, pausing for a second before adding: "Fuck School!"

This cheeky stupidity is the very spark that lit the band's international, chart-busting powder kegs back in the 90s. It is also the ingredient that never transferred to the girls' solo careers. Tonight, it is very much back in evidence.

They're an older bunch now, though, dedicating Mama to each other (although Posh belatedly remembers their parents are in the crowd too). But age seems to have improved them. Compared to their 1998 tour, the show is bigger, more polished and superbly conceived.

The sound is the best I've ever heard at the O2, and the song arrangements are tight and imaginative - integrating perfectly with the lavish, themed costumes and sets. Viva Forever is a particular highlight, with a full-on Argentinian tango thrown into the middle. Even the floptastic comeback single Headlines sounds bombastic and chunky - with thundering guitar chords beefing up the anaemic production of the single.

The crowd are an odd bunch, though. Every time Posh gets a solo line, the entire arena erupts in applause. Perhaps, posited mrsdiscopop, they're amazed she has that much breath in her.

Another awkward point is the solo section, where each member gets a turn at pretending to be the Robbie rather than the Howard.

Posh does a catwalk turn that is so toe-curlingly embarrassing that you wonder whether the others suggested it as part of a joke that went badly wrong. Mel B belts out a pointless version of Lenny Kravitz's Are You Going To Go My Way while poledancing for a member of the audience.

Except she couldn't afford a pole, so she had to use a stepladder.

Emma, on the other hand, sparkles with her Petula Clark homage Maybe, Geri proves she can out-yoga Madonna while delivering a passable It's Raining Men, and Mel C shouts her way through I Turn To You - with lasers.

But then, they have to flesh out the show with these solo bits because there are only seven or eight decent Spice Girls songs to get through.

Of the others, Holler and Let Love Lead The Way are as tedious as you remember and The Lady Is A Vamp still sounds like the theme to Top Cat sung by an actual cat. The result is that one-third of the band's 22-song concert consists of cover versions. Urgh.

Nonetheless, the Spice Girls could fill the cavernous O2 arena with their larger-than-life personalities even if they had to perform Homer's Odyssey in mime with the lights out, and those seven or eight decent songs are among the best pop records of the last two decades - so who am I to complain?

Spice Up Your Life
Say You'll Be There
Headlines (Friendship Never Ends)
The Lady Is A Vamp
Too Much (awful big band version)
2 Become 1
Who Do You Think You Are?
Like A Virgin (Victoria Beckham solo catwalk)
Are You Gonna Go My Way? (Mel B solo)
Maybe" (Emma Bunton solo)
Viva Forever
It's Raining Men (Geri solo)
I Turn To You (Mel C solo)
Let Love Lead The Way
Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)
That's The Way I Like It
We Are Family

If U Can't Dance
Spice Up Your Life (reprise)

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