The Black Eyed Peas are ridiculous. I suspect that they know this. It’s the whole point of their post-2003 career: will.i.am, in particular, is a first-class musical genius whose greatest talent happens to be making deeply silly songs about partying and fun and world peace and stuff. Hitting those marks as precisely as the Peas do is much harder than it looks, which is why they demolished several chart records last year and every other dance-pop act out there did not. (Just this morning, they made Billboard history once again, as “Imma Be” became their third single from The E.N.D. to hit No. 1 on the Hot 100. ) But can the Black Eyed Peas’ undeniable studio skills translate to a live setting? I went to their headlining concert at NYC’s Madison Square Garden last night (pictured) to find out.
As pure spectacle, the show often delivered. Robots! Lasers! Sequins! Masks! Leather! The futuristic theme was reminiscent of Kanye West’s 2008 Glow in the Dark tour, with the Peas’ party-all-the-time aesthetic in place of Kanye’s grandiose introspection. The sound mix made it difficult to discern the Peas’ lyrics at times, but that hardly mattered. We could certainly hear the all-important boom-boom-pow beats clearly enough. Visually, things stayed busy, even frenetic, with constant costume changes and scenery shifts to keep us entertained.
Yet the spirit of ecstatic excess that’s so crucial to the Peas’ recorded work can backfire in concert. In between the barrage of hits, we got sideshow after sideshow, all seemingly with the goal of putting as many crazy things as possible on stage. will.i.am freestyled while fans’ text messages — “Will you ask Fergie if I can have her outfit after the show?” — appeared on a pair of huge screens. Fergie and apl.de.ap had a serious conversation about the merits of New York pizza. And each Pea got a solo showcase to him- or herself midway through the evening. Fergie’s was fantastic, since she is a confident live singer with actual solo hits like “Fergalicious,” “Glamorous,” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” apl.de.ap and Taboo’s respective sets were fine but superfluous, unless you consider the sight of Taboo flying overhead on a suspended motorcycle to be a necessary one. will.i.am’s solo turn, however, was something close to a disaster. Instead of performing any of his solid solo singles, Will chose to play DJ, spinning random rock tunes by Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Journey, and Guns N’ Roses for no apparent reason. In a nightclub after a few drinks, or perhaps at a cousin’s bar mitzvah party in the same condition, I suppose this might have been enjoyable. But in the middle of a Black Eyed Peas concert? It was at this point that I scrawled the letters “WTF” in my notebook.
Still, you’ll note that none of these complaints involve the Black Eyed Peas performing Black Eyed Peas songs. And the show-closing one-two punch of “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling,” with all four Peas on stage while pyrotechnics exploded and confetti flew, more or less made the entire night worth it. I first heard “I Gotta Feeling” almost a year ago, when will.i.am played the Peas’ still-unsequenced new album for a few journalists in a tiny Miami studio. It sounded like a smash hit back then, and of course it was. Last night, I got to hear something like 20,000 people sing that hook at once. Any act that can fill a stadium with that much glee deserves respect.
Were you there at Madison Square Garden last night, or have you seen the Peas in concert recently? Sound off in the comments below.
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