It doesn’t matter that Vanilla Ice is a white man and not a black man.
The significant news that came out of Ice’s show Saturday night at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim is that he is no showman.
Ice, the first white solo star in rap, may have the nation’s best-selling album at the moment (“To the Extreme”), but he failed to muster the sustained heat needed to make a rap concert burn.
Instead of developing a snowballing torrent of fast-paced action, he inserted long, pointless blackouts between virtually every number. Then, when the lights came on, he would dither some more in stiff attempts at banter with his sidekick, Earthquake.
Quake: “So this is how you gonna do it, huh?”
Ice: “Yeah, that’s how I’m gonna do it.”
Silent voice in critic’s head: “Please, just do it.”
With pacing like that, the 52-minute concert went by like an Ice Age.
Luckily for Vanilla Ice, he has the same sort of very young, very adoring audience as the New Kids on the Block. The fans didn’t mind being kept in the dark for interminable stretches. The kids’ sustained, high-pitched screams filled in the long blanks that their hero left through his own neglect.
Vanilla Ice’s lyrics didn’t say much more than his silences. Basically, the rapper, whose real name is Robert Van Winkle, seems like a nice fellow with an interesting appearance (half James Dean, half Brian Bosworth), but nothing to communicate. The only pointed statement Ice made in his first formal Southern California concert appearance was a self-serving warning to his fans not to pay any attention to his critics--something you’ll also hear from the stage at a New Kids show.
Ice’s wooden rhymes lack the gift of colorful, inventive gab that is rap’s real spark. He has no themes to speak of, resorting instead to the flaccid boasting that has long been tiresome old hat for performers on the form’s creative edge. No stories, and no depictions of his own experience flavor Vanilla’s raps--unless one counts songs in which he narrates sexual encounters in soft-core rhymes that are highly suggestive, but not explicit.
On stage, even the sex fizzled. “Stop That Train” presumably chronicles Ice’s exhausting bout of kinky doings with a domineering woman, but he could have been talking about his toy choo-choos for all the steam he put into it.
Ice does deserve some credit for portraying women as partners in pleasure in his sex raps, rather than treating them, as too many male rappers do, as so much manipulable flesh.
On the down side, the young man has no sense of humor. His appropriation of “Play That Funky Music (White Boy),” by the ‘70s white funk group Wild Cherry, doesn’t have a hint of the original’s self-mockery. The title refrain is just a convenient tag-line for a rapper who wants to capitalize on the only thing that is novel about him--his color.
Ice’s voice wasn’t especially punchy or clear; his foil, the throaty, bellowing Earthquake, was a far more trenchant rapper. But give Vanilla Ice credit for putting on an honest performance. Unlike a lot of rappers who make more creative records, Ice delivered his raps in real time, without the bogus voice-doubling tracks that are frequently used as an onstage safety net.
Vanilla Ice moved well enough through a constant billow of stage fog that often obscured him and his two back-up dancers, but his hip-hop dance steps came only in short, sporadic bursts. String a bunch of those bursts together on video, and you get the illusion of a sustained, kinetic performance. These days, of course, looking good on video is all it takes to prosper. With a concert that gave new meaning to the term “frozen waste,” Vanilla Ice was proof of that.