For a man with so many fingers in so many pies, it’s a wonder that Pharrell Williams can even spare the time to be touring Australia. Producer, musician, rapper, fashion designer; he has been called a man of many talents, and while I was aware of his ubiquitous presence across seemingly every corner of the music world in the last twelve months, I wasn’t yet convinced that he deserves the level of veneration in which he’s held by a fair percentage of the music-loving population. This gig would help me decide.
Initially to be held at the RNA Showgrounds Marquee, the show was moved to the far superior Riverstage due to huge early demand, and no doubt benefited as a result. The natural amphitheatre by the river is surely one of the best venues in Brisbane, and it’s a blessing for everyone involved that the dreaded Entertainment Centre had no part to play in the evening’s proceedings.
Nina Las Vegas took to the stage to warm up the crowd as the venue filled, and ran through an up-tempo set of party tunes before an audience still happy to stretch out on the grass with a beer in hand; it was only seven o’clock and most people had just finished work after all. “Oh my God, you’re alive!” she announced, to a fairly fuzzed-out bunch of gig-goers, before further trying to entice a bit of movement with “arms are good if you wanna say hi!” during a remix of Disclosure’s ‘When A Fire Starts To Burn’.
Baauer was up next with a request to “make some noise if you’re seeing Pharrell tonight,” as I realise that I’ve never actually heard a DJ say anything interesting between or during songs; the nature of their work relegates them to using inane sentences like “let’s go Brisbane!” or “are you ready?” and while it’ll probably work at a club gig, it mostly fell on deaf ears with this audience.
With a 10pm curfew firmly in place for every Riverstage gig, Pharrell had his work cut out to make his show worthwhile when he arrived on-stage at 9:15. With his DJ and pair of dancers in tow, he simply had to walk to the front of the stage and salute for this crowd to go wild and bawl his name. What followed can only be described as a lazy, half-hearted attempt at a performance, as he reeled off shortened versions of most of the more well-known songs he’s had a hand in, with a Ramones-esque urgency but lacking in the elbow grease, entertainment value and any semblance of realism. He’s got a fairly hectic schedule, so preserving a bit of energy is understandable, but gig-goers still want to get some value for money, you know what I mean?
Starting off with ‘One’ by Swedish House Mafia, Pharrell leaned over almost into his baying and slathering audience during ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ and an excerpt of ‘Hollaback Girl’, and he still had basically done nothing on stage. I found myself wondering what would happen if the audience didn’t immediately go crazy for him the second he appeared. What would he have in his performer’s arsenal that would win over a crowd who aren’t instantly impressed by a foolishly-chosen hat, a couple of gyrating girls and a – admittedly impressive – set of abs? Luckily for him it’s a question that doesn’t have to be asked, as somehow his reputation carries him through.
“Tonight I just wanna perform for you and show how much I appreciate you so much. I know they call this the land Down Under, but this is the land on top. I want the Martians to hear the Australian voices all the way to the moon. Australia, are you ready to make some motherfucking noise?” Planetary confusion aside, this request got a huge response before more shortened versions of ‘Hot In Herre’ and ‘Lapdance’ and a request for some “oestrogen on stage” saw six or seven enthusiastically gyrating girls take their moment in the limelight.
The only song to be played in full – and indeed be anything more than two minutes long – was new effort ‘Hunter’; a song “written from the woman’s perspective”, as we’re informed. Hearing a track in its entirety made for a pleasant change to the start-stop nature of the show up to this point, but unfortunately that feeling is quickly erased when the wince-inducing lyrics of ‘Blurred Lines’ appeared.
The obvious climax is ‘Get Lucky’, which got the biggest response of the night, before ‘Happy’ closed out the set as dancing breaks out across the entire venue, although the man himself is still fairly static and alone on a big stage. More rambled speeches about being so loud as to shake the moon or some such nonsense are made, but as I left the venue it was more a feeling of utter indifference than happiness that I felt; and I was certainly no closer to understanding the phenomenon that is Pharrell Williams’s popularity after this half-hearted and peculiar little evening of live music that was a runaway triumph for style over substance.