The ’90s for me started out with playlists crammed with Prince, REM, PM Dawn, and Paula Abdul. It was a pop-pastiche for the first couple of years, until I heard Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” for the very first time and I hopped right onto that bandwagon headed to Seattle. For the next handful of years, I was deeply mired in all things Seattle: firmly focused on Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Singles soundtrack Alumni. It wasn’t until the tail end of the decade that was largely bleak, dreary and grey (see Seattle) when this Euro-pop gem “Barbie Girl” crashed down, and bathed its surroundings in bright blinding neon and an infectious pop sound. It was a single that arrived at the perfect time, as the Disney kids Britney and Justin had yet to wash up on the musical shores.
It has been over two full decades since the trio known as Aqua (Lene Nystrom, Rene Dif and Soren Rasted) took the music scene by storm with an album Aquarium that churned out hit after hit after hit (“Barbie Girl” , “Doctor Jones“, “Lollipop (Candyman)” and “Roses are Red“). It was one of those albums that sank its hooks deep into your psyche and refused to let go, which was plainly evident last Friday night in Halifax. For an act with little more than two albums to its name, it is a testament to how well-crafted their pop catalogue is.
The roar of the crowd was deafening when Ken (Rene) invited Barbie (Lene) to go for a ride, and they continued to bob and sing along throughout the smash hit. Now it was a set that focused heavily on that initial breakthrough album and offered up a couple of cuts from the band’s sophomore album Aquarius (“Around the World“, “Cartoon Heroes“). For an act that never toured these parts during their heyday, they hit the stage and appeared to have a blast working through their entire set. There wasn’t an inkling that they would rather be doing something else, they were the utmost professional rock stars, right down to mugging for the photogs in the pit. Shout out to Rene’s choice of attire, as he was proudly sporting the Green, Red and White of the hometown Halifax Mooseheads.
This wasn’t a night that belonged solely to Aqua (although, it kinda did). They brought along a couple other popular nineties acts for these Canadian dates in Whigfield and Prozzak. Whigfield treated the crowd to her brand of euro-pop with her massive single “Saturday Night” in addition to her single “Another Day”. She was a great way to kick the night off, with a relatively brief set, which allowed the saccharine-enriched Much Dance Party to keep the party rolling between sets. I certainly lived through this somewhat painful decade of music, and loved a lot of these tunes at the time, but not too many hold up beyond a fromage factor. Aside from the performing acts, it was a heavy dose of aural diabetes between sets.
It was then time for the Canadian proto-Gorillaz Prozzak, an animated duo (Simon and Milo) that took the airwaves by storm back in 1998 when they dropped their debut album Hot Show on the masses. The concept of these two animated characters was that Milo was little more than a tamed down Pepe le Pew on the hunt for his one true love, accompanied by his blonde musclebound sidekick Simon. My interest was piqued to see how they would bring Prozzak to life on the big stage, and they accomplished this by having Jay Levine and James Bryan McCollum stand behind disembodied heads of Milo (Levine) and Simon (McCollum) and perform the beloved songs, all while the Prozzak videos played on the big screen at the back of the stage. I know plenty of folks love the Prozzak material, but it was lost on me personally when it dropped at the tail end of the century, and it’s lost on me now. The band’s energy was great, and the crowd was into the set, but it was somewhat underwhelming having that curtain pulled back.
All in all, it was a fun night at the Halifax Forum. It was certainly great to see the fabled arena have a buzz surrounding it again. The demographics streaming into the barn were interesting, as it was a predominantly female crowd with more than 2/3 of the attendance share, but the age range was vast, while topping at around the mid-40s crowd, with plenty of younger fans in attendance as well. It was a room where folks could cut loose for a couple of hours, and enjoy the soundtrack of their youth while dancing like no one was looking. Whigfield and Prozzak were good, but Aqua absolutely impressed this jaded music junkie, as they sounded great and looked to be having a blast up on stage. Hopefully we can look forward to having Aqua return to these shores sooner than later.