You know the songs — “Wild Thing”… “Push It” … “I Wanna Sex You Up”… “Bust a Move” … “Ice Ice Baby” …and you know you love ’em! Admit it! Last Sunday night, the I Love the ’90s train stopped at Santa Barbara Bowl, where purveyors of some of that decade’s most contagious, infectious bubble-gum rap performed their 25-year-old hits to a rapt crowd. The resulting rap festival was the perfect Independence Day weekend sonic tonic.
Headliners Vanilla Ice and Salt ’N’ Pepa welcomed openers Young MC, Tone-Loc, and Color Me Badd on the mostly hip-hop bill (new jack swing leaders CMB notwithstanding). All five acts played their biggest hits to great effect (or, “in effect,” to be more precise.)
Culminating with “Bust a Move” (which memorably featured a funk-bass workout by Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers), Young MC added a new verse to his signature hit. The one-time Marvin Young actually co-wrote Tone-Loc’s two biggest chart-toppers — the KISS-lifting, staccato-beat “Funky Cold Medina” and the Van Halen guitar-sampling “Wild Thing” — both of which Tone-Loc performed. In a trend that started early in the three-hour program with Loc, audience members jumped onstage to get jiggy with it in a massive dance line. To paraphrase Loc, he’s from the ’80s so he’s down with the ladies. Alas, women hopped onstage to grind alongside the Los Angeles rapper for “Wild Thing.”
For a musical shift to R&B crooning, Color Me Badd serenaded the ladies with their mightiest hits — the slow jams “I Adore Mi Amor” and “I Wanna Sex You Up” — while throwing roses to females in the audience. The women seemingly ate it up, mouthing and savoring every lyric like expensive red wine. The Mark Calderon-and-Bryan Abrams-led trio (originally a quartet) also performed the bouncy “All 4 Love,” complete with choreography.
I Love the ’90s was not without its injustices, i.e., some of the artists’ cruelly short 15-minute sets. Tone-Loc’s breakthrough album, 1989’s Lōc-ed After Dark, had way more than just two big songs — lesser third single “I Got It Goin’ On,” the psychedelic “Cutting Rhythms,” the pot-smokin’ “Cheeba Cheeba,” and the drunken raunch of “The Homies” would’ve all translated as fun live. The laid-back, charismatic Loc (who even brought his two young sons onstage) certainly left the crowd wanting for more of his genial, gravel-voiced charms.
While opening acts Young MC, Tone-Loc, and CMB’s founding members looked a few pounds heavier than in their heydays, top-liners Vanilla Ice and Salt ‘N’ Pepa appeared frozen in time — fit, attractive, and seemingly undiminished. They were easily the evening’s highlights, especially the Queens-spawned all-female rap group. Even though Ice may have sold way more units of his monster 1990 album To The Extreme, Salt ’N’ Pepa had way more tunes as they “Pushed It” beyond the libidinous, seductive shuffle of their most popular song. With Spinderella wo-manning the wheels, the aerobic duo worked the crowd into a sweaty frenzy with “Let’s Talk About Sex,” “Shake Your Thang”, and “Shoop.” In an equal opportunity move, Salt ’N’ Pepa invited audience males to strut and flex onstage to “Whatta Man.” Salt teased the audience with her banter and Spinderella goosed the crowd with classics by other artists, including Run-DMC’s “It’s Tricky,” Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Likewise, Vanilla Ice delivered a confident set after remarking that the Bowl was one of the most beautiful venues he’s ever played. “I can see the ocean from here,” he said, eliciting wild cheers. Despite his years being a cultural punchline (even on this night, he expertly dodged a cup of beer an audience member hurled at him) and years later resenting his early career, the rapper born Robert Van Winkle, having long ago traded in his tacky 1990 duds and skyscraping pompadour for a baseball cap and a golf shirt, projected an easy charm that went over well with the crowd. Backed by live percussionist Chopstick, the good-natured Florida resident and long-time reality show star opened strongly with “Hit ’Em Hard” and worked his way up to his inevitable mega-hits, the K.C. & the Sunshine Band-biting “Play That Funky Music” and the “Under Pressure”-sampling “Ice Ice Baby” — all on a Halloween-ghoulish stage akin to an Insane Clown Posse concert (peopled with guys dressed like Darth Vader and the Ghostbusters). Before performing some of his rave-ready EDM tracks, Ice welcomed scores of women onto the stage, although that quickly backfired they got grabby, pulling at his shirt and trying to hold his hand. Giving said girls the slip, Ice chuckled and quipped, “It’s like 1990 all over again!”
Ice even relaxed enough to laugh about his participation in 1991’s Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze and busted out “Ninja Rap” (“Go, Ninja, go Ninja, go!”). Under the warm, unifying umbrella of a Bob Marley song, Ice’s show dissolved into a crush of audience members approaching the stage for a handshake or a selfie with the once-monolithic Billboard charts fixture. Finally at peace with his past, Van Winkle extended “one love” to his Santa Barbara audience…and they loved him back.