Live: N.E.R.D. Brings Highline Ballroom To A Standstill


Highline Ballroom
Tuesday, May 31

Better than: Sweating in the heat outdoors, but only barely.

Jumping into the event-planning space normally afforded to Heineken and other higher-end brands, Coors Light tried to put on a show last night. Vinyl banners, hanging from the VIP section, gave the Highline Ballroom—a usually cool space—the charm of a college bar, and a Coors Light-branded whiteboard hung by the bathroom and asked the question, “Who’s the coldest group ever?” Written-in responses included the addresses to a bunch of Blogspot pages and “wolf gang SwAG.”

Search no further for the coldest group ever, Coors Light: N.E.R.D. is right in front of you! Chad Hugo, hiding behind green-rimmed Ray-Bans and what seemed to be the effects of barbiturates, was a pillar onstage, an obstacle for Pharrell and Shay to move around. For most of the show, the three members each existed in their own separate universes, engaging with neither one another nor the audience. (That’s not entirely true: at the very-very-beginning of the show, Pharrell did take a moment to apologize to CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, seated stageside, for not being able to spend more time with her.)

Even when an impromptu and never-ending gang of skinny-legged moshers rushed onstage during “Thrasher,” “Spaz,” Pharrell shied away from them, backing to the other side of the stage and eventually sitting down by the drum set.

It’s something I wished I could do, sit down. Most of the show felt very sleepy, which could be due to the low energy being put forth by the entertainers… or maybe it was the fault of the sound techs, who had mixed the show so poorly that—for the first five songs, especially—it was like watching a concert with your head in a bucket. (Maybe that was part of Coors’ corporate-integration strategy.)

The crowd, a flash mob of ambivalence, stood still, coming alive for the rare moments of glee: the rumbling “She Wants to Move”; Pusha T trotting in for a surprisingly jumpy version of “Everybody Nose”; the closing “Rockstar.” Overal, though, I’m surprised the room didn’t fall over from a bunch of people shrugging at once.

Halfway through the show, during an especially dead period, Pharrell said, “All the ugly people, be quiet!” Even then, not too many cheers went up. There were a lot of ugly people in the building last night.

Critical bias: In the year before it came out, I would go to my local Sam Goody and—on a persistent basis—ask when “In Search Of…” was finally hitting stores. It kept getting pushed back, but I kept asking. (These were the days before Wikipedia.)

Overheard: “Is he saying ‘I came to sweat’ or ‘I can’t dance’?” (He was saying “I came to sweat.”)

Random notebook dump: It’s astonishing how little effort Chad puts into performing live. I made the following notes: “Chad doing the Weekend at Bernie dance, sorta styled the same, too;” “Chad just lifted his arm—this IS a big deal;” “Wondering if every .gif of Chad is just a .jpg?” “Chad smile count: one. Arm raises: one.”

Set list:
I Wanna Jam
Sacred Temple
The Man
She Wants to Move
Backseat Love
God Bless Us All
Sooner or Later
Hypnotize You
Hot N Fun
Everybody Nose (with Pusha T)
I’ve Seen the Light
Bobby James