Rock: Spice Girls show new dimensions

THREE YEARS, two albums and six No 1 singles into a career that has seen them become the world's most successful pop group, the Spice Girls got around to putting on their first concert in England. And it was the same as everything else they've done - their records, their film, their books, their magazines. It was never stunning, it was sometimes not much cop at all, but overall it was much better than it might have been. In the Manchester Nynex Arena on Tuesday, there were metal staircases and three big video screens and a number of costume changes worthy of Diana Ross. Boyzone, Eternal and East 17 should go along and see how it's done.

Of all the pop people whom the British Isles have spawned in the last decade, only the former members of Take That could watch the show without hanging their heads in shame: the inventiveness, personality and perfectionism of the boys' extravaganzas were never challenged. Whereas Take That had years to hone their act in clubs around the country, the Spice Girls' first live performance was in a stadium in Istanbul last year. Whereas Take That learnt how to connect with their audience, the Girls just fling insults at each other as though they're halfway through a hen night - amusing for the length of a TV interview, but wearing when stretched over two hours. And Gary, Robbie and co would never have made do with that piddly little squirt of fireworks at the end.

Another field in which Take That reigned supreme was that of dancing, and the Girls have a lot of catching up to do: starting the show with a song called "If You Can't Dance" was not a prudent decision (as imprudent, in fact, as their movie slogan, "They Don't Just Sing!"). It can't be easy to trip the light fantastic in those stack-heeled trainers, but the Girls confine themselves to shuffling around and striking poses, delegating the Terpsichorean duties to six acrobatic hunks called, predictably enough, the Spice Boys. Even "Sporty" Mel C is still to top the backflip she performed way back in the video for "Wannabe".

On the other hand, the Girls' most obvious flaw has always been their singing, and here they were enormously better than expected. Even "Posh" Victoria could hold a tune, and "Baby" Emma turned in a creditable solo rendition of the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go" (chosen purely for how often the word "baby" crops up in the lyrics). When the Spiceworld comes to an end, she is guaranteed at least two Top 30 singles of her own before she settles into a career as a children's television presenter.

The prevailing view is that Mel C is the best singer, but that all depends on whether you think a window-rattling shriek is an asset or not. The Girls obviously think it is, because there is a terrible moment towards the end of every song when the other four sing the chorus in unison ("Stop right now, thank you very much ... ") and Mel C screeches the words to a different rhythm ("STOP - RIGHT - NOW!") over the top. Still, to give her her due, she is by far the most committed performer of the five, putting her every ounce of energy, and her every facial expression, into every song (I'm sure she's related to Eunice from Gladiators). And on "Viva Forever", when she harmonised with "Scary" Mel B, along with a Spanish guitar and a surging synthesised orchestra, I must admit I had a lump in my throat.

Which brings me to the music. I'd always viewed the Spice Girls' albums as having little more to offer than photographs of Mel B (particularly fetching on Tuesday night, perhaps because of a rare allergy that brings her out in a rash if she covers her upper body with anything more substantial than a Wonderbra). But at Manchester, most of the songs were distinctive, funky and vibrant, with a hard-rocking edge - and it'll be a good few years yet before we're able to sing along with this many All Saints tunes.

Who would have thought it? Dozens of outlandish theories have endeavoured to explain the Spice Girls phenomenon; it's weird to think that something as marginal as the music may have been behind it all along.

Speaking of weirdness, the concert's main strength and main weakness is just how perplexing it is. For instance, in the corner of the video screens is an insert of a man translating the lyrics into sign language, for those pop fans who are, well, deaf (he doesn't attempt the Spanish passage in "If You Can't Dance"). And the visuals never seem to have the slightest relevance to the songs they supplement. Why do the screens show an egg-timer engulfed in flames during "Walk of Life"? Why, on "Say You'll Be There", are the Girls twirling canes like Charlie Chaplin? And who dreamt up the staging concept for "Move Over"? The Girls strut down a catwalk in parodically ostentatious clothes - Victoria in an oversized boa, Geri in a cowboy hat. The Spice Boys, in trilbies and trench coats, are press photographers. There's a pretend catfight and Mel B is pushed off the catwalk; then one of the photographers is captured and stripped down to his underwear. (Then there's the interval: half an hour long, which is just enough time to show commercials for all the products the Girls have endorsed.)

It may seem like ill-thought-out nonsense, but I have a nagging suspicion that there were hidden layers to this gig. At the start, before the Girls emerged from their "Spicecraft", a voice-over paraphrased Star Trek: "Spice, the final frontier ... their mission, to boldly go where no woman has gone before." Before the encore, another voice intoned a line from a less likely source: Blade Runner. "The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long ... and you have burnt so very, very brightly." So, the Girls began the show with a utopian vision of the future, and finished it with a dystopian one, comparing themselves with Blade Runner's replicants: short-lived, laboratory-manufactured humanoids. Crumbs.

I'm not sure if I'm getting carried away here, but this would seem to be an unsettlingly stark metaphor for existence as a pop star. You can keep your Brian Enos and your Peter Gabriels. If it's postmodern intellectual stimulation you're after, go and see the Spice Girls.

Manchester Nynex Arena (0161 930 8000), tonight; Wembley Arena (0181 900 1234), Tues, Wed, Sat, Sun 19 Apr, 21, 22, 25 & 26 Apr; Birmingham NEC (0121 780 4133), 28, 29 Apr, 2, 3, 5 & 6 May.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions