Every now and then, a bona fide hit song blankets the airwaves, and you'd have to pull a double Van Gogh to miss it. This summer, there's no debate--it's "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley, and it was no surprise when their two dates at the Fillmore sold out immediately.
Gnarls Barkley, The Fillmore, July 18, 2006: Let's face it, Gnarls Barkley's appeal lies almost as much with their ever changing wardrobe selections (my friends are still talking about the Star Wars outfits on the MTV Awards) as with their melding of musical styles. In that respect, we weren't disappointed when Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse hit the stage in chef's whites, accompanied by a backing band dressed as short-order cooks and '50s-style waitresses. Later, they introduced themselves as the Sam Cookes, and Cee-Lo even offered a box of donuts to the fans in the front row--though not without an ulterior motive.
You see, this was unlike many Fillmore gigs I've attended, and not necessarily in a good way. Granted, I have limited experience with overnight sensations these days. Also, it was the first night of the tour, which usually means the crew hasn't yet worked out the technical issues.
Though I suspect the majority of the Gnarls Barkley audience doesn't frequent club shows very often, they probably realized something was up when two hours after doors opened, we'd seen no action onstage. Instead, we listened to a live DJ for the duration, though there had been no announcement of such. A little before 10pm, the roadies started testing out equipment, and this went on for longer than expected. In fact, they lingered worryingly at one of the big keyboards for a while. Finally, half an hour later than scheduled and following a round of boos from the crowd, the band arrived, pastries and all.
It helped that they opened with Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf," which always guarantees entree to my heart, and we heard a few other covers through the night to pad their 37 minutes of recorded output. Independent of the hype, the show highlighted their eclectic influences, and Cee-Lo's rich voice and outsize personality was a great contrast with Danger Mouse's rockin' soundscapes and quiet support.
In the end, though, I'm not sure what to think of the gig. No, you don't hear Gnarls's brand of fearless, fluid fusion much on the radio these days, and nothing can take away from the shock and delight of those first airings of "Crazy." I guess I expect more from a Fillmore debut than an hour of music and fun outfits. If you have a ticket to any of the upcoming dates, by all means, check 'em out--but maybe keep in mind that you may be seeing more of a performance than a show.