Common, N.E.R.D. and Chester French Tuesday, September 23, 2008 Fillmore Auditorium Better Than: Most hip-hop/soul shows you’ll see this year. The Roots included.
At about 7:30pm, with the Fillmore not even half full, retro pop/rock/soul act Chester French took the stage. The band, who recently inked to Pharrell Williams Star Trak Entertainment imprint, took the stage not really caring if anyone knew who it was. Pharrell describes the group’s music as “Brian Wilson singing over Motown tracks with a rock edge,” and with buzz songs like “She Loves Everybody” and “The Jimmy Choos,” it’s hard to argue that point. The act, whose lead singer, D.A. Wallach was born in Denver but raised in Milwaukee, only performed a twenty-minute, five-song set, but nonetheless left a good impression.
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N.E.R.D. was up next, but didn’t take the stage for 45-minutes. The outfit opened with the head-banging “Anti-Matter” from its new album, Seeing Sounds, followed by fan favorite “Brain,” from the debut album, In Search of... N.E.R.D.’s sixty-minute set consisted of tracks from its three albums, with nothing from Pharrell’s solo album or any other production or projects he’s been involved with outside of the band. In the middle of the set, the group performed abridged versions of “Run to the Sun,” “Bobby James,” “Provider,” “Sooner or Later,” and “You Know What,” which caused the crowd to kind of doze off a bit. But as soon as N.E.R.D. went into “Rock Star” and “Spaz,” the crowd got back into it, with the outfit’s bodyguard helping fans get on stage to “spaz out” with Pharrell and company. After the fans were ushered off the stage, the bodyguard began bringing females on stage and the band tore into “Lapdance,” “Everyone Nose” and “She Wants to Move,” its hit from the second album, Fly or Die. N.E.R.D. finally exited the stage to the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” leaving fans wanting more. The high octane performance seemed like one that would be tough to follow for Common.
Common stepped up, though, as soon as his set commenced about an hour later with an elaborate stage setup that resembled a bar. The theme for the first half of the show was a club scene, in which Common was trying to get into the venue, but his name wasn’t on the list. He then ran out from backstage and jumped into his new song, “The Announcement,” followed by another new song called “Breathe In” from his forthcoming album, Universal Mind Control. Between songs Com would talk with girls sitting at the makeshift bar on the stage, with a backing voice track narrating. Yes, Common was using his acting skills on stage. Along with some of his well-known songs like “Go,” “Come Close,” and “Testify,” he also performed at least three more never before heard new tracks, one of which sounded like it was produced and featured Andre 3000 from Outkast.
The great thing about Common’s set was the mix between his band and the DJ and the mixing up of his songs with classic joints like “The Corner” mixed with Nas’ “NY State of Mind,” or “Universal Mind Control” mixed with classic b-boys jams like “Jam On It.” Of course he did fan favorites like “Drivin’ Me Wild,” “The People” and “Be.” And with the exception of “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” he didn’t do any of his songs from the ‘90s. We’re sure fans didn’t forget classic joints like “Soul by the Pound,” “Retrospect for Life,” or even an off the top freestyle that he’s been doing at shows for most of his career. Maybe it was because of his shortened set. It clocked in just at fifty minutes as he ended the night with his biggest hit “The Light.” It was weird having the show end exactly at 11 p.m. Regardless, the evening was worth the ticket. -- Quibian Salazar-Moreno
Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: I believe Pharrell Williams is a musical genius, and Common is on the shortlist of my favorite rappers of all time. Random Detail: For hardly getting any radio or video play and being a mostly underground band, N.E.R.D. is insanely popular. Fans knew almost every lyric and there were countless N.E.R.D. trucker caps and t-shirts in the crowd. By the Way: Williams produced most of Common’s new album, and the have worked together before. Even so, he never came out during Com’s set to perform the songs they worked on.