Concert Review: Gnarls Barkley

Concert Review:
Gnarls Barkley
The Riviera
Chicago, IL
September 11, 2006

Gnarls Barkley, the musical spawn of two of today’s most fascinating hip-hop hipsters, brought in the noise and the funk to a semi full Riviera theater Monday night. The group, founded by Atlanta rapper/singer Cee-Lo (once frequent Goodie Mob collaborator) and DJ Danger Mouse, whose Beatles/Jay-Z mash up “Grey Album” took the internet by storm a couple years back, flooded the airwaves this summer with the ever-so-catchy mega hit, “Crazy.” While their concise live act was entertaining and enjoyable, it lacked the intriguing power of their studio album, “St. Elsewhere,” mainly due to poor sound mixing and a rushed set.

It’s hard to classify Gnarls Barkley into any one sub-genre of modern pop music. It’s not quite straight hip-hop, not quite straight rock. It toys with the sounds of indie and 60s psychedelic rock while also blending in modern soul, R&B, Motown and funk melodies and rhythms. Bottom line is during a time where rap and hip-hop groups can often be a dime a dozen, Gnarls Barkley proves that its cool for art to imitate art by treading the waters of a number of different musical soundscapes.

The show was a mix of tracks from “St. Elsewhere” combined with a handful of obscure covers of bands as random as The Doors to indie alt-crooners, The Violent Femmes. Highlights from the set included the obvious opus, “Crazy,” which featured an interesting but short intro by the groups string section, The G-Strings, and the gospel anthem, “Just a Thought.”

Then there was the stage presence, an aspect of Gnarls Barkley that received just as much attention this summer as their chart rising single. Dressed in pajama suits and slippers the 13-piece ensemble took the blue-lit stage to a roaring crowd. Cee-Lo, who must enjoy hearing himself speak, was very animate throughout the night, dancing, shouting, enticing the audience and at one point falling over on stage–an accident that was no doubt a result of extreme energy and joy.

Danger Mouse, who is without a doubt the mastermind behind the music side of Gnarls Barkley, was somberly perched over a slew of antique keyboards and soundboards through most of the set, looking up every once and a while to enjoy a sip of bottled beer.

Gnarls Barkley is definitely one of those modern acts to keep an eye on. Cee-Lo, like fellow singer Sleepy Brown has for so long been just a hook vocalist for bigger acts like Outkast or Goodie Mob, however, through Barkley he is able to truly shine and is one hell of a talented singer. With a slightly revamped stage set up, mastered sound mixing and a longer and possibly more accessible set, Gnarls Barkley could very well move away from simply being a studio group and join the ranks of groups like The Roots who continue to toy with the different sounds and musical influences.


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