If there was ever a way to close off summer with a bang, Flow 93-5’s Flow Fest Throwback Birthday Bash on September 27 was the perfect way to do it. With a star-studded lineup that included Choclair, Maestro, Fat Joe, En Vogue and Salt N Pepa, it would have been impossible to have a lousy time. And with the crowd dancing from mid-afternoon to when the concert ended just before 11 pm, nobody did.
It also seemed unlikely that each act would top the one that came before, but it happened. Excepting Fat Joe — who didn’t make particularly great use of the stage and relied too much on the crowd to fill in half his songs — each act amped up the energy to increasingly exciting levels. And unlike most concerts, each musician paid deep respect to those who came before them. Maestro profusely thanked the musicians who inspired him, as well as urged the crowd to show strong vocal appreciation for the artists who had graced the stage before him. It was a heartfelt and touching gesture that showcased why he continues to stand apart from so many other performers.
Two times during the night, in between sets, DJs from Flow 93-5 held their twice-daily game show, Gold Digger. The concept was simple: an audience member was called up to the stage and had to guess when the dynamite sound effect would blow up the increasing dollar amount they could win. Both contestants play it relatively safe, but still won sizeable sums of money.
But as soon as En Vogue took to the stage, the game show became a distant memory as they roared through an impressive hour-plus set that seemed to cover all the biggest hits in recent music history. Performing some of their biggest hits like “Hooked On Your Love”, “Free Your Mind” and “Hold On”, the trio (Terry Ellis, Cindy Herron, Rhona Bennett) also put on one of the most impressive medleys this writer has seen. Instead of the usual three to five songs, the women blasted through “Lady Marmalade”, “Proud Mary”, “Ring My Bell”, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, “Bad Girls” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and more, with enough energy to light up Toronto for months.
There were some murmurs that the stools placed on stage before En Vogue appeared meant the ladies would play a quiet, relaxed set, but that couldn’t have been further from what transpired. Instead, Ellis, Herron and Bennett strutted, danced and sang with the kind of intensity and passion that made them one of the most popular musical acts in the last 30 years, neverminding gender or genre.
They set an incredibly high standard, and Salt N Pepa’s arriving 20 minutes late seemed as though the closing act wouldn’t measure up. Making matters more unsettling was their opening music riff being interrupted twice by technical difficulties, leaving one fan in the front row at the barricade grumbling, “I’ve been here since 4 — where are they?” But it took all of two seconds from the time Cheryl “Salt” James, Sandra “Pepa” Denton and Deidra “Spinderella” Roper walked on for the crowd to forget the snafu.
Both Salt and Pepa took time to thank the audience for supporting them unconditionally for the last 30 years, asking them to loudly cheer if they were one of their “’70s babies, ’80s babies or ’90s babies”, with each demographic responding with intense enthusiasm. In between audience banter, which was sprinkled with a mix of humour and fond memories, was the reason they were the ones anchoring the show: their incredible energy, musical talent and catalogue of hits.
James and Denton showed their skill in getting the crowd more and more excited without having to resort to generic platitudes, getting them to scream and move while they blew through hit after hit and cover after cover. They saw En Vogue’s bouncing medley-a-thon and more than matched it with their own, presenting an eclectic mix of songs that included Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky”, Guns ‘n Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.
But it was their most popular songs the crowd came to see and the women did not disappoint. Even if you couldn’t describe yourself as a diehard fan, it’d be pretty difficult not to recognize the songs that gave them a 30-year career, with hits like “Push It”, “Shoop”, “Expression” and “Let’s Talk About Sex”. There were also energetic backup dancers, adoring male fans called up from the audience, and even two men dressed in gold lamé suits to help enact a couple of girl-power skits.
For those who stuck around after Salt N Pepa’s faux goodbye, there was an unforgettable encore where En Vogue joined them onstage to close off one of the best concerts this summer. And even though the supermoon failed to make its much-anticipated appearance, the superstars delivered.