At one point during the I Love the ‘90s tour, which came to Rupp Arena Saturday, frog-voiced veteran MC and two-hit wonder Tone Loc asked the crowd the most rhetorical of questions.
“Y’all don’t mind if we take it back a little bit?”
Taking it back is what this show was all about. The concert, which featured seven of the decade’s hip-hop and R&B hitmakers headlined by Salt-N-Pepa, was a throwback machine crossed with a Spotify playlist come to life, with some acts delivering far more than others.
While the entire show proved to be a bit of an endurance test at more than three hours long for the 3,500 fans in attendance, it was not for lack of efficiency or the artists knowing the drill. Whether it was Young MC (in name only, at 49 years old) capping off a 10-minute opening set with his only true hit “Bust A Move” or the aforementioned Tone Loc turning on the lover-man persona for his two biggest contributions “Funky Cold Medina” and “Wild Thing” — while bringing dozens of women from the crowd on stage — the artists knew what the people wanted to hear, embraced it, and mostly kept their sets short and to the point.
Color Me Badd (now a trio instead of a foursome) shifted the show with a somewhat abrupt, momentum-draining shift from upbeat hip-hop to R&B with mixed results, despite delivering a set with its biggest hits like opener “All 4 Love,” “I Adore Mi Amor” and its biggest smash, “I Wanna Sex You Up” with Mark Calderon and Adam Emil delivering the song’s signature choreography. Bryan Adams took the lead on vocals and left the dancing to the other two throughout the set.He had some impressive runs though he was often pitchy — but at leastpeople in the front row got some roses before they wrapped things up.
As one of the only artists intent on putting on a unique live performance versus a rehashing of hits, Coolio came equipped with a trio of skilled musicians (guitarist/vocalist, saxophonist and drummer) to aggressively perform a few deeper cuts, a Prince tribute and party-starting songs like “Fantastic Voyage” and “1, 2, 3, 4” before closing with “Gangsta’s Paradise” that kicked up the energy a few notches in the arena. Follow-up act All-4-One was one of the show’s most pleasant surprises. The quartet’s polished showmanship, choreography and harmonies were a throwback to vocal groups of a much older era. They incorporated both a ‘90s R&B medley of hits the group’s contemporaries like Boyz II Men, Montell Jordan and Bell Biv DeVoe and hits such as opener “I Can Love You Like That” and closer “I Swear,” which had the crowd singing and cell phone lights swaying in unison.
The show’s final hour-plus finished with hip-hop, with Harlem MC Rob Base’s workmanlike, hyped-up performance that featured snippets of old hip-hop classics and a few of his own with “Joy and Pain” and the infectious party jam “It Takes Two.”
Then, Salt-N-Pepa took the stage for a 45-minute set that showcased chemistry, charm and charisma of Cheryl James (Salt) and Sandra Denton (Pepa) maybe moreso than their extensive catalog as arguably hip-hop’s biggest female group. While they did satisfy the crowd’s desires by playing some of their biggest hits like “Let’s Talk About Sex,” “Shoop” and “Whatta Man,” they left a few hits on the table (“Ain’t Nuthin’ But a She Thing,” “None of Your Business”) in favor of some lesser-known songs from their late ‘80s albums (“Tramp,” “I’ll Take Your Man”).
There was also a set from DJ Spinderella that blended everything from House of Pain’s “Jump Around” to Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” a few instances where they brought both groups of men and women on stage, fawning over their two male back-up dancers and talking between songs about their incredible relationship and 30-plus years in the business. By the time they donned leather jackets to close with “Push It” with blasts of confetti, everyone seemed to get their nostalgia itch thoroughly scratched.
Blake Hannon: firstname.lastname@example.org