It is not every day that an email lands in my mailbox from my editor with confirmation that I'll be seeing Vanilla Ice at a restaurant/venue in Frisco. The Farmers Branch native's music may not be on top of most people's Spotify playlists these days, but there are clearly more than enough people who still embrace Mr. Van Winkle. He had the packed house singing along to the deep cuts, by which I mean everything except "Ice, Ice Baby."
The Iceman played a packed show last night at Grover's Grill & Bar, one of the more unique music venues in Dallas-Fort Worth. It's got the look and feel a friendly neighborhood bar and grill, but there's a spacious stage in one corner of the main dining area. The stage is more than just a bit of open space dedicated to bands who are willing to play for free chicken strips and a discounted bar tab. It's got a full lightning set, smoke machines and even room for a good-sized crowd to surround the stage. It's nearly impossible to get a table or move around much when the place is packed like it was on Thursday.
I stumbled into the crowd. White, white, white. No surprise there. A few minutes later, a brainstorming session started among a few of us at the urinals as we tried to remember one of Ice's hits besides "Ice, Ice Baby." Someone started chanting "Go ninja, go ninja, go," the refrain from the "Ninja Rap" that Ice performed for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze,.
The opening act, a Beastie Boys tribute group called Rhymin' N Stealin', had a very solid set. They sound remarkably similar to the real thing, which, I may or may not know from experience alone in my car, is harder to do than it looks.
Still, if I am Vanilla Ice, maybe I would not have a cover band of a much more beloved hip-hop group open for my actual set. Maybe Riff Raff's available for next time.
So: Rhymin' N Stealin' pulled off an awesome, high-energy set that got the room moving before the main talent hit the stage. They clearly can carry a room all by themselves.
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It took a little more than an hour for the main act to take the stage. Most of his equipment was hidden under black tarps. There was a looming, inflatable skull arch that looked like it was taken from someone's yard at Halloween time. Still, the room was patient, and everyone was in good spirits when the show finally started. It quickly grew to a frenzy as the man himself took to the stage, having traded his signature hairstyle for a ball cap and his American flag jacket with "Word to Your Mother" bedazzled into the back for a simple T-shirt. Did you know he has six studio albums, a live record and two greatest-hits compilations? He does. The newest album came out in 2011. So there was plenty of material to draw from, both familiar and not.
Of course, he wasted no time working the phrase "Ice, Ice Baby" into his opening song for the crowd to chant. I immediately switched from Coke to beer.
Give the man credit for knowing his demographic -- one of those newer ones is "Born on Halloween," a little ditty he recorded with Insane Clown Posse. His performance of it last night came complete with an evil clown dousing the crowd in bottled water.
Of course, Ice still plays his famous songs, like the aforementioned "Ice, Ice Baby," which was greeted by many a cell phone, recording the moment for social media posterity. After pointing out that his drummer had "the world's only Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles drum set," Ice even got the crowd to recite a few bars of "Ninja Rap."
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"I can't believe y'all remember that shit," he said. Neither can I, Ice.
After a few more of his less famous hits and a crowd-pleasing rendition of Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry," the show came to an end in the span of an hour, leaving the room in good spirits. It's not my kind of music, even when I was at an age when I would pretend to listen to just about anything if it meant a sliver of a chance at friendship or access to someone's NES. But the crowd was still buzzing after he left the stage, and even if the name Vanilla Ice has become something of a pop culture punch line, he still has fans who are willing to drive at least as far as Frisco to see him.
As long as you've got someone enjoying your work, it's still worth getting up and fighting through the grind of the day to put something out for them. If Vanilla Ice can do it, surely the rest of us can.