The Girls Are Alright | Music Review | Chicago Reader

The Girls Are Alright 

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Spice Girls
at the New World Music Theatre, July 27

I am a Spice Girl! I want to be Old Spice! I want to dance around with a pair of old knickers on my head, shout and swear and get drunk and generally act badly in public! (Actually, I do but no one will pay me for it.) I want to frighten tired old rock journalists who are so addled by soul-searching, sensitive artists that they've forgotten what "pop" is short for. When the Slits refused to bathe and peed freely in the streets everyone thought they were cool. So why don't the old goats like it when Scary ties up her hair with her band mates' dirty panties?

We shouldn't be surprised that the Spice Girls blew up so big. They rose like postfeminist giants, stomping on all comers with their great platform boots. After years of Pearl Jam clones and traumatized girls with acoustic guitars, the world needed some light entertainment. The Spice Girls' music is fun. It's upbeat and positive. It's about girl power. They sing about the value of female friendships--and nuts to the boyfriend who doesn't like it: "If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends." They are the natural antidote to the half-dead hippie Ophelias of Lilith Fair. Hooray for the Spice Girls, for they are copers!

What critic hasn't moaned about their inability to play musical instruments--they can't sing, they can't dance, they don't write their own songs. But Mick Jones couldn't sing, lots of people can't dance, and the Spice Girls do write their own songs--at the very least the melodies and lyrics, and you can check the credits if you don't believe me. They were assembled but they aren't manufactured; they're too chubby, too loud, too crazy, too sexy, too plain, too Everygirl. If one clever record executive (and there's an oxymoron) could really whip up just the right formula, why aren't armies of Spice Girls clones charging up the charts? I believe they are their own creation now...they are themselves. The Spice Girls may not sing like R & B divas En Vogue or dance in perfect sync like TLC, but "Wannabe" and "Spice Up Your Life" blasted like fresh air out of the radio, and the ineptitude was part of the charm.

Anyone can be a Spice Girl; everyone is welcome in Spice World. It's a color-free zone where little homegirls hang out with suburban WASPs. The group and its fans are multiracial and it's no big deal. Fuck Paula Cole telling Rolling Stone she's black on the inside--how come no one calls her on that? And that tambourine thing she does with her feet? God help us--that is the crap that should carry a parental advisory sticker. But in the Grammy stakes it was Paula Cole 7, Spice Girls 0. Despite their tireless efforts and huge financial contributions to its cause, even the industry is down on the Spice Girls.

There are signs, however, that the tide is turning. Madonna recently admitted in Spin that she used to be a Spice Girl--a little denial there, because she still is one. Avant-gardist Jim O'Rourke likes Baby Spice best. How many other furtive Spice groupies are out there? Someone's buying those records.

Crowds of happy, screaming girls and a few screaming boys took their parents to see the Spice Girls at the World Theatre last Monday. I took three of my adult friends. The kiddies, none of them ours, waved hand-painted Union Jacks and held up homemade posters featuring their favorite Spices; they wore their $30 Spice Girls tees and twirled their Spice Girls glow rods; the occasional, rebellious "Ginger Come Back" banner rose above the sea of tiny heads and hands. Commercials for Revlon, Domino sugar, and Biore facial strips, shown on huge video screens, doubled as the opening act.

A huge galaxy backdrop and Flash Gordon-style props established the show's space-age theme; giant silver doors, also a video screen, showed the Spice spaceship hurtling across the universe on its way to the World--and yes, it really was William Shatner's voice saying, "Spice, the final frontier." The doors pulled back, revealing the four Girls at the top of the stairs in the first of 11 costume changes. By then even the four of us were screaming.

Dancing "Spice Boys" and choreographed routines brought to mind a less polished Madonna extravaganza. Baby Spice, dressed in baby blue, sang, "Baby, baby, where did our love go?" Between songs the Girls would call out goofy mock inquiries like "Where are you, Baby?" or "How are you doin', Chicago?" in their broad northern English accents. Showmanship was frequently and thankfully lacking--during some of the dance routines Posh seemed to just give up with a good-natured grin.

After a 30-minute intermission so the kiddies could pee, the hits came pouring out, with "Spice Up Your Life" and "Wannabe" as the natural high points. One for the dads was "Naked," sung while the Girls straddled chairs backward, the chair backs covering their supposedly unclad torsos. Screens closed around them, and when they reopened those cheeky Spice Boys had taken the Girls' place. During Scary and Sporty's rousing version of "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves," girl power flashed up on the video screens to the teenies' delight. Better this, I thought, than losing it over Hanson or the Backstreet Boys. For their encore, another costume change (into patched, flower-power bell-bottoms) and a cool rendition of Sister Sledge's "We Are Family." Finally, sitting together on the stairs all dressed in white, they dedicated their song "Mama" to the mums in the audience. There wasn't a dry seat in the house.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Spice Girls and crowd photos by James Crump.

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