Melanie C Derby Assembly Rooms (September 4th 2000)

Sam Taylor Sunday September 10, 2000 The Observer

Sporty was, I admit, always my least favourite Spice Girl. But the last time I gave the matter serious consideration was in 1997, and things have changed. Atomised into their various solo careers, the five Girls have revealed sides to their personalities that are simply not catered for by those single-adjective nicknames. We need a new Spice lexicology for a new Spice era...

So, in place of (in order of my '97 preference) Ginger, Posh, Scary, Baby and Sporty, we now have: Desperate and Annoying Spice, Married to Someone More Famous and Talented Spice, Emotionally Troubled and Unsuccessful Spice, The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Spice, and Hasn't She Done Well? Spice.

Yes, it's true: Melanie Chisholm, the Spice who, despite possessing the most powerful set of lungs in the group, always came bottom of the popularity polls, is now the biggest-selling, most credible of all. Her debut album, Northern Star , has been in the Top 20 since last October, and now, while Posh is signing plaster casts in the Rochdale branch of Our Price, Melanie C has embarked on a proper, 22-date tour of the UK: small venues, real band, no lip-synching. All this with a broken foot! Posh would definitely have cancelled.

Starting your tour in Derby, however, suggests not merely strength of purpose but outright masochism. It's well-known that audiences in the Midlands are the most boring and cold in the world, and - for the first couple of songs here - the crowd are as blank and stupefied as a net of bludgeoned carp. Truly, if you can make it here, New York would be a cinch.

Ms C, though, has the dauntless positivity of a Club Med holiday rep. Wearing a black 'I love Derby' vest and faded jeans, she keeps reassuring the crowd that they are 'mental' until, eventually, they are. Her charm is unfocused but relentless: punching the air, sticking her tongue out, wiggling her bum, fondling her left breast...she does the lot.

Same with the music. The secret of her success, I think, is that she is a one-woman compilation album. She does rock ('Goin' Down'), ballads ('Northern Star'), modern R&B ('Never Be the Same Again') and trance ('I Turn to You'). Melanie C reaches multiple demographics, as they say in the music industry. In other words, even people who hated the Spice Girls like her.

This variety helps her live show, which benefits from avoiding the big solo-pop-star-tour clichés - the long-haired, show-off lead guitarist, the earnest, introspective soliloquy. Instead, we have a short-haired female guitarist and bassist who do their jobs enthusiastically but with the minimum of fuss.

As a performer Melanie C is somewhere between Tina Turner and Bruce Springsteen (especially her biceps). As a singer she's not in that class, but there are at least no embarrassing vocal glitches, none of the atonal shrieking that we heard on that awful Bryan Adams duet. By the end, the crowd are leaping like salmon on Red Bull. Melanie C is pleased: 'Fuckin' 'ell, look at this... aaarrrggghhh!!!' she squeals. It may not be saying much these days, but Sporty is my new favourite Spice Girl.