Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Rock Star

  • concert review: N.E.R.D w/ Spymob and High Speed Scene @ Kool Haus(Toronto, Ontario), July 19, 2004

    N.E.R.D. @ Kool Haus(Toronto, Ontario) July 19, 2004: photo by Mike LigonMy bro and I got into the venue after getting a stern warning from one of the security girls to not use my digital camera to video record. Ummm, considering that my memory card was pretty full, I didn't think I'd be recording anything that night. Oh, and while patting me down she was quite touchy-feely with my front jean pockets, because I had my keys and camera in my front pockets...she did get quite 'close'...if you know what I mean. ;-)

    High Speed Scene were the first band up and my brother and I got in just after their set started. From what I heard, they were N.E.R.D.'s backing band on a previous tour. Their music falls in a sort of power-pop-punk vein along the lines of say American Hi-Fi. I wasn't terribly impressed but the kids seemed to like them. They played one song that had some interesting wiry guitar playing which was a welcome change of pace from their usual power-chord guitar strumming. Otherwise, I think the song which quoted the words "Taco Bell" hit the nail in the coffin for me and got me hoping for the next band to come on. Not my cup of tea, but I'm sure they have their fans. And I won't be surprised if they become the next MTV-buzz band of the moment.

    In between sets, my brother and I set out to find my cousin and his friends who were also going to be there. But really, Kool Haus is just too cavernous to find anyone unless you specify a meeting place. Lost cause [although later on in the night after Spymob's set, when my bro and I were standing near the bar, who walks up to us but my cousin and his friends who just got there].

    The next band up were Spymob. I kinda had high hopes for the band after checking out some song samples at their site. What figured most prominently in their music was the piano, which like Ben Folds, showed that piano could be quite rocking in its own right. The instrumentation[piano, bass, guitar, drums] was more than adequate, but I was somewhat disappointed with the live results...the songs were pleasant, if somewhat antiseptic-sounding, pop-rock with a slight r 'n' b edge. The one exception that I remember was the song "German Test Drive" which featured drum n' bass beats and some cool organ-sounding keyboard arrangements. They are a talented bunch of fellows and the song samples on their site make me want to like the band more...songs like "On Pilot Mountain" and "National Holiday" make me long for the days of Ben Folds Five[ok Ben Folds is still kicking around, and I'm really glad he is, but without the 'Five', there's definitely something missing]. They're one of those non-jazz bands that would in my opinion likely go over well at a jazz festival. Does that make any sense? I'll leave you to figure that one out, but maybe if you hear the song samples on their site, you'll get my drift.

    Just need to mention that this show was a 19+ show and there were an inordinate amount of young ladies[who likely just turned 19] who no doubt were hoping to catch a glimpse of Pharrell with his shirt off. Definitely a different crowd than I'm used to...b-boys, club kids, but also thrown in to the mix were your share of indie and rock kids. More concert audiences should be this beautifully mixed.

    And then N.E.R.D [minus Chad] took the stage with Spymob as their backing band. That was a total surprise. Not sure where Chad was, although I assumed he must have been sick or something. N.E.R.D. had a backdrop of a large photo of themselves plastered on the wall behind them and Pharrell and the boys proceeded to rock the mic for the next hour and a half. Mind you, I'm not that familiar with their music save for some of their videos I've seen on Muchmusic, but I was eagerly anticipating an interesting mix of rock and urban influences. N.E.R.D. played an irresistible mixture of rock, hip-hop, funk, soul, r'n'b, and pop that was at once accessible and edgy. Their music at times sort of reminded me of "Check Your Head"/"Ill Communication"-era Beastie Boys, but that was more of a starting point, as the boys slinkied their way through mellow soulful jams, then segued into more straight-ahead hip-hop joints, blasting through in-yer-face rockers and then jamming on some of Pharrell's solo hits like "Beautiful". Pharrell beatboxed and broke out the falsetto which were definite crowd-pleasers. Spymob, whose own set seemed lacklustre, seemed to have more energy and they shone during N.E.R.D's set. And for the ladies, Pharrell's shirt came off during the encore. Pharrell got the crowd into it, if somewhat crudely, with his cursing and middle finger gestures, but hey, it's only rock and roll. And I like it. Definitely one of the better headlining sets I've seen all year! [check out my photos here.]

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