If you’ve paid even passing attention to early reports of the Spice Girls comeback tour, you will be aware of problems with the sound, the car parking, the lax and/or overbearing security checks, the bad weather, bad tempers, bad karma, bad you name it…
Some of it may even be true. But having observed the Spice Girls sashay through a maelstrom of fake news since long before the phrase was invented, I was not altogether surprised to discover that the show was far better performed and produced, and certainly a lot more fun, than the media mavens would have us believe.
No one would describe the Ricoh Arena in Coventry as a place of visual or acoustic beauty. A 40,000-capacity bear pit, identified by FourFourTwo magazine as the worst of the 92 stadiums in the English football leagues, it is a forbidding destination in every regard. And yet, by the end of their second night there, the Spice Girls had successfully rebranded the vast impersonal bowl as a gaudy monument to the enduring appeal of girl power.
The group, who once declared themselves, in a historic interview with this magazine, to be ‘true Thatcherites’, nowadays tailor their sloganeering to fit a more ostentatiously inclusive agenda. As the show began, the screens around the stage flashed up a ‘Welcome to Spiceworld’ message that embraced ‘all ages, all races, all gender identities, all countries of origin, all sexual orientations, all religions and beliefs, all abilities’.
As fireworks shot into the air, the Girls appeared at the front of a huge, semi-circular stretch of stage that extended out into the audience. With the dress code ranging from superhero to Disney princess, they started with a full-blooded salvo of ‘Spice Up Your Life’, ‘If U Can’t Dance’ and ‘Who Do You Think You Are’. Their voices retained the brassy, mischievous, chattering-back-and-forth character that was stamped so effectively on their many multimillion-selling hit records.
Now in their forties, and having produced eight children between them (12 if you include the progeny of the absent Victoria), Geri, Emma, Mel C and Mel B all remain in enviable shape. As Geri pointed out before they sang ‘Mama’, their audience (about 85 per cent female on this occasion) have transitioned from children to mothers since 1997 when that song was a hit. Nostalgia provided an undeniable frisson. But it was the rude vitality of the four girls themselves, as they swept through a succession of costume changes and routines, that was key to the resounding success of the show.
‘Oooh! There’s something special about Coventry,’ Geri said, one of many compliments that were showered on the audience and locale almost as thickly as the blizzard of confetti that cued in a string of slow songs. ‘Viva Forever’, ‘Let Love Lead The Way’ and ‘Goodbye’ were all surprisingly affecting amid the clamour and glamour that was the show’s default setting. Coventry responded with arms and smartphones outstretched, offering up a lusty ‘Happy Birthday’ to one of the dancers (Shay, who had turned 18).
The musicians in the band were sidelined and largely invisible, leaving the 20-strong troupe of dancers to provide a visual kaleidoscope of flamboyant choreography. The girls were matey, larking about on giant boxes and reminiscing about the good old days. ‘I remember driving you all to rehearsals,’ Geri said. ‘You’re a terrible driver,’ Mel B responded tartly.
They ended with a rousing string of their biggest hits: ‘Say You’ll Be There’, ‘2 Become 1’, ‘Stop’ and a final, triumphant romp through ‘Wannabe’. Just before that, faces unmade-up, they each gave an emotional testimonial on the video screens on what this reunion has meant to them. ‘We’ll always be the Spice Girls,’ Mel B said. ‘We’re not a group, we’re a movement.’
Ricoh Arena, Coventry, and touring until 15 June