By Paul Ballard
Artist: Salt N Pepa
Date / Venue: Friday November 15th, ASB Theatre (Aotea Centre), Auckland
"We don't just regard you as fans, we regard you as family" exclaimed Cheryl 'Salt' James, who alongside Sandra 'Pepa' Denton took things back to the old-skool for a one-night-only Salt-N-Pepa party at the ASB Theatre in Auckland. It has been 19-odd years since the Grammy Award-winning duo has graced our shores; one thing's for sure - they were intent on making up for lost time.
We arrived just before 9pm, just as the X Factor-winning duo Toni Turner and Stacy Awheto aka L.O.V.E. were finishing their live set. This was unfortunate as I was keen to see them, but judging by the positive response there will be plenty of opportunities to catch them again in the future.
The stalls began to fill with eager fans and even though this was a seated venue, dancing in the aisles had already begun. Champion DJ and producer DJ Reminise was leading the charge, embracing the spirit of the occasion by referencing the classics. It was hard to keep up as he moved deftly between decades of recognisable dancefloor moments, each drop of an opening bassline bringing a cheer louder than the last - the biggest reserved for Whitney's I Wanna Dance With Somebody. From Swing Out Sister to Deniece Williams the breaks kept coming - this party had officially started.
By the time support act Times x Two hit the stage the crowd was electric and the Auckland hiphop duo responded with verve. Their tight rhymes and energetic, playful style was pitched perfectly and my faith in fresh local hiphop was once again restored. Who needs staunch bravado? When you've got talent it shows and these guys have bucketloads. They were relishing the opportunity to be part of the proceedings and tonight was definitely their time to bask in the spotlight. A quirky rendition of OutKast's Ms. Jackson was also an added treat. Listen out for more from these fellas over the coming year.
One more set from Reminise before Salt-N-Pepa hit the stage with a bang. Joined by DJ Dee Whiz and flanked by their two male dancers (the Salt-N-Pepa 'Shakers'); the Queens of hiphop owned it from the get-go, stepping up a gear with the Isley-tinged Shake Your Thang. There was no half steppin' here, no miming over backing tracks - this was the real deal and they were sounding as good as they have always been. For the next 80 minutes the party never stopped as they showcased the cream of their four albums with a mixture of music, dance-offs and crazy interludes.
This show was all about the hits; in fact there were so many I lost count - from the Coltraine inspired Expression to the infectious rump-shaker Giddy Up Baby, the sultry Whatta Man and of course 1990'sLet's Talk About Sex which had as much sass as the day it was released. It was also great to hear some of their earlier work such as I'll Take Your Man, TRAMP and My Mic Sounds Nice, which although losing some of the younger members of the crowd still sounded as fresh as when I first heard them back in 1986.
During the 80s and for a large part of the 90s, Salt-N-Pepa brought fun and femininity back into hiphop and tonight we realised why. This show was slick, choreographed and most importantly it didn't try to be anything other than what it was - a celebration of the fact that they simply love doing what they do. Tonight was proof enough that this rap duo are as ingrained in our musical lives as the classic tunes upon which some of the songs were sampled.
For their encore the tune that started it all - Push It - was performed to a sea of arms lit only by filming smartphones held by a new generation of fans. The times may have changed, but we all still know the words. They are welcome back to our shores any time, and hopefully they'll bring DJ Spinderella along for the ride.