Even the two comedians who opened up for the Iceman last Friday couldn't resist the fish-in-a-barrel jokes. (Yes, comedians--different local stand-ups are opening for Ice on his current tour, which stops at Jillian's all across the country. And yes, Jillian's--the restaurant chain that seems designed especially for daydreaming third-grade boys, with its oversized arcade, bowling alley, and billiards areas that easily dwarf the sitting-and-eating portion of the restaurant.) Actually, "jokes" is an overstatement. But even a good comedian doesn't need to do much more than say "Vanilla Ice?" and look puzzled to get a crowd roaring--even a crowd of people who just paid $10 to see Vanilla Ice.
But the most important thing about the Vanilla Ice show, more important than the Girls Gone Wild-esque turn things took halfway through the set, more important than the fake graffiti Jillian's put on the walls that read drink beer and party party--more important than anything I might be able to crack wise upon is this: If you were at the Vanilla Ice show with your tongue stuck in your cheek, ready to heckle, giggle, or sneer, it didn't matter at all once Ice took the stage. Any heckling or laughing or sneering that took place Friday night was absolutely lost beneath the rest of the crowd's ecstatic cheering, screaming, and singing along.
In fact, snide intentions were replaced by silent awe. As much of a joke as Vanilla Ice is, when he's on the stage, it's his time--no VH1 Behind the Music, no ugly MAD Magazine caricature, no celebrity smackdown with Willis from Diff'rent Strokes has taken that away. He grabs the mic, gets the crowd wild, and looks like he's having the time of his life for a little over an hour.
Yeah, he did "Ice Ice Baby"--everyone in the crowd sang along too. He even joked about doing a "special heavy version of the 'Ninja Rap,' featuring Insane Clown Posse." Then he squirted water all over the crowd. There's no air of desperation at a Vanilla Ice show. He's not pretending he's on his way back to 15 million copies sold, as his 1990 debut, To the Extreme, amassed. He seems more than happy to please whoever wants to see him, wherever they may be.
Musically, Ice's sound is a sanded-down, simplified version of the rap-rock that Limp Bizkit and company peddle--with slightly more rap. Formulaic, verse-chorus-verse songs you'll swear you've heard before but then forget moments after they're finished. He isn't writing classic songs for our time, but it's the exact right thing to get a room full of people amped. And if that is reason enough to dismiss Ice as a joke, then you're going to have to write off most of the bands who sit at the cool kids' lunch table right now. Seriously, that "Hate to Say I Told You So" song obviously wasn't classic when Blur wrote it a few years ago, because no one remembers it well enough to wonder why the Hives are blowing up off of "Song 2" sans a few "whoo-hoo's." Ditto for the rest of the flavor-of-the-moment boners--let's see how many of your Strokes, Stripes, and Vines are still playing shows 10 years after MTV and the magazines turn their backs.
That said, Ice's music isn't terrible--far from it. And it's entertaining in unexpected ways. Tattooed and shirtless, drummer "Christopher the Hit Man" not only plays incredibly well, he plays drums like he's the frontman: constantly mugging at the audience, getting up from his seat while playing, throwing his arms around like a contortionist, and never once missing a beat. He's amusing all by himself. And he's the drummer.
The whole show was entertaining as hell--in part because everyone present knew full well what it means to be at a Vanilla Ice show. Nobody had to clench their sphincter, check their hair, or cross their arms: people danced, and they danced without self-consciousness or irony. Liberated from that too-cool-for-school mind-set for a moment, I felt bad for everybody who couldn't even contemplate coming to the show that night. In fact, I think I'm going to try and eat my lunch with some different kids from now on.
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