Live Review: N.E.R.D
Certainly in terms of units shifted, charting and airplay, Pharrell and Chad’s Neptunes output alone warrants comparison to Motown’s Holland, Dozier and Holland in their mid-1960s heyday.
But, where HDH were ostensibly required to navigate the constraints of their own palatable, homogony-effecting template, The Neptunes’ hit composing/producing juggernaut, freewheels in and out of genres with trademark innovation, panache and alarming rapidity; and then there’s all that other shit they do...
So Pharrell’s certifiably seminal - not just musically, but in his subsequent contribution to the broader popular culture. N.E.R.D. is his hybrid, half-cast, test tube baby, reared on unfettered creativity and a relative disregard for chart success.
Subsequently, Hisense Arena (oh yeah, anyone care to explain to me exactly what the fuck Hisense is?) was completely void of any identifiable demographic and was, at a conservative guesstimate, not full.
Regrettably, Grandmaster Flash’s support set was an abomination. Haggard grandfather Flash’s absurdly generic, Year 11 formal-party-mix catered less to the “lovers of hip-hop” in attendance (whom he persistently and irritatingly implored to raise their hands to undiscovered little gems like ‘Crazy in Love’ and ‘Jump Around’) than it did to the requisite, bug-eyed excitables who show their heads at everything anyway. “$80? Yeah, sweet – so who’s playing? DJs from overseas? F@#kin boom!”
Now, I’ve got a nose for irony, but there was nothing tongue-in-cheek, let alone nostalgic or credible, about Flash’s performance. It was a gigantic, first order cock up on which he would ultimately improve, albeit marginally, at Future Music Festival the following weekend.
Anyway, N.E.R.D.’s rocked out, band-like performance was predictably Pharrell-centric, and why not? He works a crowd (and a female torso, or 40, notably when he hand-picks girls to jump on stage for a closer ogle, a happy snap and a grind), suggesting his projected introversion/’I don’t do interviews’ thing is only a part-time persona. Also, at a distance of approximately 30 meters, I decided he has soft, feminine features, without veering into gender illusion androgyny like, say, Jethro Cave. Yes, that is really what I decided.
The two drum kits, some additional tracks, bleeps and synths included, a guitarist with some sizable biceps (something you don’t see very often - it looks quite awkward and ungainly actually) all proved quite gratifying on a lively, visual scale.
In actual fact, all was going swimmingly until Pharrell elected to exploit his fans by pushing his own agenda at show’s end, demanding everyone get out their phones and type in the URL of some fucking artist’s community website he’s promoting at the moment.
Nobody could quite work out whether or not he was taking the piss. Half the crowd left muttering bemused expletives; the other half remained on stage for the encore.