Concert Review: Spice Girls @ ACC, Toronto 2/3/08

This is incredibly overdue and for that, I apologize.  After the chaos of the actual day and attempting to ensure my last minute plan to get my sister, my friend and I into the show, the first of four in the city, I simply didn’t have the energy to properly review the show.  Over time, I delayed the review because I didn’t want to incorrectly attribute the wrong dance routine to the wrong songs.  With the help of YouTube, I’m reconstructing the nitty-gritty to present a complete review.

Some history:  I was not a Spice Girls fan.  They were mildly amusing at best, with their only enduring contribution in my memory the ‘so bad and awful it’s good again’ film Spice World and memories of drunken karaoke to Stop, complete with hand motions, with friends in 2000.  My sister, 13 years my junior, was utterly obsessed.  The toddler was constantly watching and rewatching Spice World.  Over time, as my emo/rock teenage phase ended, I became more forgiving of the guilty enjoyment of silly catchy pop, and my view of the Spice Girls softened.  But this did not, in any way, make me want to rush out for tickets upon word of a reunion tour.

My sister, however, went mental at the news.  I remember an MSN convo where I was pretty much told I ‘had to’ get her Spice Girls tickets for her birthday (Feb 7th).  Being broke, I pretty much told her that if I were rich I would, but since I was not, she could save up the hundreds herself.  I’m not a bad sister, but seriously… Did you see the prices for some of those shows?  Toronto’s prime seats were almost $150 each.

Fast-forward to early February.  I’d randomly decided to download the Greatest Hits album to hear the new single and also, to stop the sudden endless looping of Viva Forever in my skull.  As if the fates meant for it to be, I had the sudden whim to check ebay for Toronto tickets.  I still had no idea what to get my sister for her birthday, after all.  I had a $70 budget.  I didn’t expect anything.  But I soon discovered a weird fact:  while pairs were (mostly) going for huge final bids…. singles, even good ones, were not selling.  Not at all.  They were closing for less than half of face.

Brainwave:  “What if I could find two singles really close together?  All that matters is getting her in the show, really.  She’s not 3.”

I text my mom and get the okay, since this is bound to cause some missed school.  I explore and bid and with my friend Joe’s help, I manage to win 3 different singles for the same show, and two of them are in the same section, just 10 rows apart.  I call my mom and we arrange sneakiness.  My sister never saw it coming until we were actually ‘casually’ checking the box office for anything left’, although she thought the end result was going to be me buying the standing room only tickets released the night of.  The fact she’d spent four hours with me while I held onto the tickets was a shock and got me simultaneous “You bitch!” and “OMG OMG!” bipolar reactions.  Oh yes indeed:  I had made little sister’s dream come true, for $60.  All 3 of us were separated, but really, it was still amazing.  And once I’d won the tickets, a funny thing happened to me:  I got excited.  I was excited to see the Spice Girls live.

I always did secretly love Geri.  I used to call her Smart Spice because she left the band first.  I adored Look At Me and various tracks from Scream If You Wanna Go Faster.  And Baby was kinda cute, too.

There I was, in my seat, having refreshed my brain on the Spice World movie and the Greatest Hits disc, realizing just how many songs I knew by heart.  I was surrounded by two distinct crowds:  one of fans from their heyday, excited to see their idols together again, and one of new fans, pre-teens excitedly bopping in their seats and screaming.  And together, we all were part of the Spice Magic.

I’m going to say it upfront:  I’ve seen very few pop concerts – or rather, pop productions, complete with complex set changes and 15 different outfits.  I’ve seen a tremendous amount of live shows, though, and I would put this one into my top twenty, simply for the smooth flow, constantly eye-catching stage set-up, and the fact that, with the exception of Victoria “Posh” Beckham, the girls really can sing quite well, particularly Emma “Baby” Bunton.  Every second was carefully planned, every costume change efficient and well-designed, the show playing to their sexy side (Holler; Too Much) and the sentimental (Mama; Goodbye), as well as the fun (Spice Up Your Life; Stop).  Were they worth the full price?  If you were a fan at all, most definitely yes.  It’s a shame the tour was cut short, because the fans overseas truly were deprived, and my gut instinct is that this will not happen again.  I do believe I witnessed Spice History, and it was indeed awesome.

Girl Power, indeed!  And now, the play-by-play:

Intro:  The opening montage video, featuring little girl versions of the ladies of Spice, glowing pink moths and a flashy lighting and tech show that basically told us the girls were on a mission to Spice us up once more became a screamfest and intentional tease of the audience.  They kept the fans waiting a good 3 minutes before any signs of life were seen.  I had a very interesting vantage point from my seat, which was up high and beside the stage, so the view was clear, complete, and had the bonus of seeing trap doors begin to open and close to reveal or remove the Spices throughout the night.

Spice Up Your Life:  As if there could be any other opener.  I didn’t even have to look up the tour setlist prior to the show to guess this one.  The venue exploded into serious screaming, as I called my friend for the song;  she texted me after to declare them the ‘loudest crowd ever!’.  She’s bang-on;  they were!  First thing I noticed:  Posh is wooden on stage.  Almost a robot.  It’s like an exaggeration of catwalk posture.  I like this song, and joined the crowd that rose to its feet and pretty much stayed on them to dance and sing.

Stop:  Way to keep the upbeat songs flowing!  Memories of karaoke… as I joined the crowd and the Spices for the hand gestures.  Really, you can’t NOT.  There’s a mind control element at play, I swear.  The Spice Boys (what they call their back-up dancers) are amusing and for the most part extremely well placed and coordinated.   Around this point, my inned fangirl was “ZOMG GERI!!!!!!”, especially since she’s such a hottie.  Mrrowr!  I also verified by this point that lip-synching wasn’t happening;  do a YouTube yourself and watch multiple clips from different shows of the tour of the same songs.   It doesn’t sound identical night to night.  Plus, there were times they (*cough* Posh) didn’t sound perfect or on-key.  It takes balls during a highly anticipated reunion tour full of choreography to sing live.  Hell, Justin Timberlake lip-synched the time I saw him live (I went for Christina Aguilera, thanks, but the $100 ticket made me stay to see his set;  when he began beat-boxing the same beat for 15 minutes, I got bored and we bailed).

Say You’ll Be There:  This song makes it screamingly obvious that they’re singing live;  Victoria was off, and Geri even wasn’t quite with it.  I noticed Geri continued to get better across the night (she wasn’t ever terrible, just not perfect), so I assume it was a warm-up issue.  The side seats we had were a huge advantage since the Girls stuck to the rear of the stage while the Boys danced upfront and on the upper side platforms.

Headlines (Friendship Never Ends):  Ah, the new single…  And quite frankly, it nauseates me in the same way as Mama does.  Blech.  Wretch.  It was performed beautifully, though, with excellent harmonies.

*Costume Change and Dancer Interlude!  They kept us entertained when getting pretty all night*

The Lady Is A Vamp:  This song kicks off the ‘jazz/sultry’ set…  You’ll notice watching the changes that the songs are broken into mini-sets that further add to the show flow.  This set had a very cabaret feel to it, and was probably one of the strongest if you ask me.  I happen to LOVE The Lady Is A Vamp;  it irritated me that it wasn’t on the Greatest Hits.  (Oh lord;  am I a fan yet?  Ha ha!)  As the lower video screen lifted to reveal a marquee lighted mini-stage with the girls in their sexy black outfits surrounding a jazz-combo band, the audience shrieked with glee.  All the Girls needed was a piano to lay and sing on.  A highlight!

Too Much (Jazz Version):  Oh my.  This version completely owned the original.  The Girls danced and ‘stripped’ in a set of 5 dressing rooms on stage, the old kind with swinging doors where ones head and legs are still visible.  Definitely sexy, and definitely fun.  I strongly encourage you hunt down a recording of it;  it’s a delicious reworking.

2 Become 1:  I really loved the staging of this one;  the use of the poles and the enormous feathers added a classy sensuality to a song that showcased Baby’s vocal skills in particular.  It was at this point I believe where I texted a friend and said just how impressed I was with her.   I also have to say of all the outfits worn during the show, these were among my favourites.

*concert change part deux!*

Who Do You Think You Are?:  Oh how I love to dance to this song.  And Geri is awesome!  This kicked off the sassy, “I’m too sexy for these men”/”retro outfits” set, as I like to think of it (Too bad they pushed If You Can’t Dance to later in the set, eh?).   This was all about Geri, from the Union Jack flags revealing her as she took the mic to the fact that of all their songs, this one just screams Geri’s personality to me.  Another note:  throughout the night, Geri and Scary were by far the most energetic of the Spice Girls.  They were so into the show from start to finish.  Victoria and Sporty seemed like they were going through the motions at times, and this was one of them.  Emma was having a good time, especially during her solo song and towards the end.

Like A Virgin/Supermodel (You Better Work):  Ah, Victoria’s Catwalk.  You know you’re the lousiest singer when you can’t handle a solo song.  Melanie Brown may not have solo albums to draw from, but she pulled off an awesome cover.  What’s Victoria’s excuse?  And yet, from crowd reaction through the night, Toronto has the following preferences:

Geri>Victoria>Baby>>Melanie B>>>Melanie C.   (Ha ha Sporty!  :p)

Are You Gonna Go My Way?:  Scary busted out a cover of Lenny Kravitz, with a ‘story’ of two gay men watching her and one ‘swinging her way’ due to her sex appeal.  I can’t blame him after the sexy fake fellatio dance…  One of two moments in the night where I had to wonder if they realized that there were some small children flooding the seats too.  Still, it was fun!

Maybe:  Emma was the first to bust out an actual solo career song…  And wow!  Half of me laughed at the Gidget-esque/Nancy Sinatra feel of the performance and the connect to Spice World, and half of me was infected by the clever sass of the song.  Note to self:  obtain copy of Maybe.  The black and white trippy 70’s feel was a definite winner.

*interlude!!!!!*

Viva Forever:  I think this is my favourite song by the Spice Girls.  Wait…  I know it is.  I have a mixed feeling about the performance – not from the vocal standpoint, but the dancing/staging.  I think the flamenco guitar in the song leading to a tango/flamenco dance intro and performance was a stretch and detracted from an impressive vocal performance by all 5 members, especially Baby.  The tango breakdown was well-choreographed but just broke with the mood of the song for me.

Holler;  In terms of the video on the screens behind the group, I think the montage for Holler was one of the best of the night for its hilarity (the Spice Girls as butt-kicking comic book heroines).  Keeping true to the song’s original release, Geri was not on stage for Holler, which brought moment two of “not suitable for wee toddlers” in the form of the word BITCH in huge letters on the video screens and the part where the women walked men on their hands and knees in dog collars down the front stage extension into the audience.

It’s Raining Men:  Geri’s solo song for the night… What, no Look At Me?  (LOL)  Just because the video had her burying herself as Ginger Spice…  In any case, the applause was deafening and made it very clear which Spice Girl ‘Spice City’ prefers most.  Yes, Toronto was named ‘Spice City’ by Geri after the fans threw such a tizzy over not having a show until they got four.  The thunder and lightning effects ALMOST drowned out the crowd.  Almost.  😉  Geri rocked out and much fun was had by all.

I Turn To You:  Dear Sporty:  your solo songs are weak imitations of 1992 dance tracks.  I also find your voice irritating in large quantities, undiluted by pleasanter voices adding harmonies.  Please don’t fool yourself into thinking this tour will launch you a solo career.  Seriously, the staging was a clear metaphor for Sporty on this tour:  no dancers, just her singing…  She was completely in solo and selfish mode when she undertook this.  It was grating to watch her just run back and forth across the stage.  This was a ‘piss-break’ song.  Of note:  it’s the only solo Spice song that made zero charting in Canada.  No wonder I was like, “Um what?”  I can’t believe this knocked Rock DJ by Robbie Williams off the charts in the UK.

Let Love Lead The Way:  Performed true to form (sans Geri, being from the Forever album), I have to say…  No wonder the band stopped after Forever.  The tracks were seriously lacking.  This one tops Headlines, though;  in fact, Headlines, sonically, feels like a rip-off of this one.

Mama:  Okay, I hate Mama.  It’s completely lame and weak, and on the heels of the last two songs, for the first time in the show, I felt a serious lag.  I was getting bored.  I pretty much ignored the singing and watched the montage, featuring the Girls with their children and their mothers in still shots.  I kinda wish we’d been lucky like the last Toronto show and the kids had come out.  Watching Cruz breakdance would have made this a LOT better.  I remember at the start of this one, they discussed how many of them were mothers, and how beautiful Geri thought they all were.  Geri was so hilarious all night.  Oh!  Earlier in the night, Melanie B mentioned she’d spent the day at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) looking at dinosaurs, and I was all, “OMG!  I love the ROM!  I met my BF there too!”  Now I have the urge to make a trip again soon.

Celebration Melody:  A strange mix of old school disco hits, snippets sung and danced to…  It kind of felt redundant, but it was still silly good times anyway.  What saves it is the freestyle playful element, from Geri swinging around a dancer’s neck by her legs to the quips fired back and forth.

Goodbye:  One of the strongest songs of the entire night.  Baby blew me away, seriously.  While Goodbye, in commercial form, did not feature Geri (she left the second tour as they were recording it in studio), she did record vocals for the original version.  Plus how could they do the main set closer without GERI?  Really!  There would have been riots!  The gorgeous montage of the glowing moths through the forest from the opening video wrapped the show together nicely.

*final interlude/encore break*

If U Can’t Dance:  A shortened version of this track, complete with ‘colours of the world’ adorned Spice Boys…  Fun, but really, it was more a “Welcome Back to the Stage”, where the girls pondered aloud, “Did we forget something?”  Melanie B playfully shouted, “So tell us what you REALLY, REALLY want!”  And we were off and running into the finale…

Wannabe:  Even though some of the lyrics drive me around the bend, this song is mind cancer, and you can’t ever forget it, nor can you resist singing along.  You know what would have been cool in my opinion?  The Girls should have come out in ‘old days’ outfits…  Geri in her Union Jack dress, Baby in a cute little white dress, Victoria in her ‘little black Gucci dress’…  You know?  It would have been seriously cool.

Spice Up Your Life (reprise):  The show wrapped with a moment that confused casual fans/dragged along boyfriends…  “Didn’t we already do this song?” one mused as the Girls did a slower remixed and shortened version to wrap the show up.  A fitting conclusion to a show full of nostalgia.  As the screens blinked and declared, “Mission Accomplished”, I had to agree:  thousands of people had been Spiced, myself included.

Some clips!  I heart YouTube!  These are from my show!

Viva Forever (full song yay!)
Wannabe (clip)
Holler (clip)
It’s Raining Men (clip)
Mama (clip)
The Lady Is A Vamp (clip)

SETLIST:  SPICE GIRLS – TORONTO 2/3/08

Intro
Spice Up Your Life
Stop
Say You’ll Be There
Headlines (Friendship Never Ends)

The Lady Is A Vamp
Too Much (Jazz Version)
2 Become 1

Who Do You Think You Are?
Like A Virgin/Supermodel (You Better Work) – Victoria’s catwalk
Are You Gonna Go My Way? (Lenny Kravitz cover) – Melanie Brown solo
Maybe – Emma Bunton solo

Viva Forever
Holler (without Geri)
It’s Raining Men – Geri solo
I Turn To You – Melanie Chisholm solo
Let Love Lead The Way (without Geri)
Mama
Celebration Medley (Celebration/Shake Your Body Down/That’s The Way (I Like It)/We Are Family)
Goodbye

Encore:
Spice Boys dance solo
If U Can’t Dance
Wannabe
Spice Up Your Life (reprise)

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