i love the '90s 

friday, 9 june — qudos bank arena, sydney

I was pumped for this. Something you may experience in life (or already have) is sudden and inexplicable nostalgia for things you once thought were a bit shit. Take this entire concert for example.

When I was in high school I had no interest in groups like Color Me Badd. I was listening to ‘real’ bands like Sonic Youth, Nirvana and the Pixies. Color Me Badd were smiling on the front cover of Smash Hits with little bum fluff moustaches, wearing cross colour jeans, and guest appearing on Beverly Hills 90210. Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon would never do that. I disregarded Coolio as a one hit wonder and that one hit was basically a Stevie Wonder cover. Salt N Pepa passed me by too, as I was more interested in shoegaze and alternative.

Something happened when the ‘90s finished. Any time these bands came on I would reach for the dial not to turn it off, but turn it up. Thanks to shopping centres and school socials I knew all the lyrics. What was lame compared to Rage Against The Machine back in the day was fun and infectious compared to the pop of today. So yes, I was pumped for this.

Young MC hit the stage first and was a strong opener. He is definitely the wrong side of 50 to still be rocking the prefix ‘young’ but his closer and biggest hit Bust A Move had the stadium doing exactly that and ignoring the fact that it technically came out in 1989.

Young MC

Tone Loc's distinctive gravelly voiced rap style comes from drinking boiling hot tea as a kid and scalding his throat quite badly. Bit of a fun fact (but not for him). His biggest hit is a sample heavy and thematically problematic track called Funky Cold Medina in which Tone complains about being unable to ‘get’ women until he starts slipping something into their drinks. He takes one home and in a sudden plot twist ‘Sheena was a man’. Using the wrong pronouns to describe a trans person you just mistakenly drugged may have been hilarious in the ‘90s, but that is a much more complex and nuanced issue in 2017, thanks Tone, if that is your real name.

Tone Loc

Color Me Badd as I found out researching this show are named after a horse. So they could have been called ‘Phar Me Lapp’ or ‘Maky Me Divaa’. Another fun fact: They released a remix album called Young Gifted & Badd which is a little bit Color Me Sadd. Also they are now down to three. We’ve lost the Kenny G guy. At one point lead singer Bryan Abrams yells ‘are all the ladies of Sydney having a good time?’ Gender may have been binary in ‘91 Bryan, but that shit’s a spectrum now and intersectional so how about you ask everybody if they’re having a good time? Thank you Bryan. Bryan unfortunately was having trouble hitting the falsetto like he once did. Particularly the line “Disconnect the phone so nobody knows”. People were visibly wincing around me. Or maybe that was at the idea of disconnecting a land line during sex. Is that really necessary? Seems a bit suss now that I think about it. Bryan then said ‘We’re going to mix it up a bit now’ which as it turned out was code for ‘here’s some songs that aren’t actually ours’. They then proceeded to do No Diggitty by Blackstreet. People around me were heard to exclaim, ‘Oh I didn’t know they did this’. Yeah they didn’t. But they also only had two and a half English hits and half a Spanish one. Dig.

Colour Me Badd

Coolio appears and everyone in the house gets quite excited by his trademark twig hair. He has a guitarist, sax player and live drummer which really elevate his performance. He has really matured in style fusing his hip hop with a fast blues style which really works. The distinctive opening strings of Gangsta’s Paradise fill the venue and are unfortunately pre-recorded but that doesn’t stop the set closer turning into an epic singalong.


Excitement is at a peak for Salt N Pepa and people are indeed loving the ‘90s. After a 30 minute DJ set to cover the turnaround, Salt and Pepa with DJ Spinderella take to the stage and the noise from the crowd is deafening. True pioneers, Salt N Pepa shaped hip hop back when it was considered a fad selling millions of records and winning Grammys. Cheryl ‘Salt’ James and Sandra ‘Pepa’ Denton are awesome to behold, carrying themselves with true star power, still with a great chemistry and energy. They lit that massive arena up, had the crowd in the palms of their hands and didn’t let up for a second of their 30 minutes dropping hit after hit. The whole place was on their feet and this set was worth the price of admission alone. They’ve only gotten better with time, their banter is hilarious and they truly delivered that night.

Salt N Pepa

This is where it got weird. Bob Van Winkle takes to the stage as headliner under the pseudonym Vanilla Ice. Firstly why is he headlining over Salt N Pepa? Their top three cuts on Spotify are Push It, Whatta Man and Shoop. His are Ice Ice Baby, a rap that owes everything to Queen and David Bowie’s bass line, a cover of a Wild Cherry song and a rap about ninjas. As a ninja myself it was quite offensive seeing my culture appropriated and reduced to a call and response of ‘go ninja go ninja go’. Halfway through the set, Van Winkle drops Ice Ice Baby and a massive confetti canon explodes. For most a massive confetti canon signals the end of an evening’s entertainment.

Vanilla Ice

However Vanilla Ice inexplicably carries on with some truly odd choices as the stadium begins to empty out having seen the last of the hits they were intent on hearing live. Vanilla Ice’s DJ cranks DJ Snake’s Turn Down For What. Let me be clear, this wasn’t a cover. This was the original with Vanilla Ice and a stage full of individuals he had invited up with mystifying criteria such as ‘If you got a fanny pack get up. If you’re wearing ninja turtle green get up’. They all throw their best moves to the song while Vanilla goes “turn down for what” over the “‘turn down for what”’ part. What the hell is going on I thought at the time, bemused and truly not knowing where Vanilla Ice was going to take us next. This was truly the Twin Peaks of sets. Where was it going? What was happening? Has he noticed half the crowd have left? He then performed No Woman No Cry by Bob Marley (1975) and Paper Planes by MIA (2007), not so much ending the concert with the ‘90s but surrounding them.

It was a great tribute to the R&B and pop of that decade but Salt N Pepa and Coolio were the MVPs that night. I hope they keep bringing out these line-ups in various forms, because these jukebox concerts are great fun and great value. And by the way Vanilla Ice, my mother sends her word back.