Sometimes a band or an artist will come out of nowhere and totally blow your mind.
Perhaps you’ve heard a song or two and don’t care for the music. Or you’re casual fan, but don’t necessarily think they’re totally spectacular. Or you just assumed you wouldn’t like the music based on genre or preconceived notions.
But then, you have some encounter that changes all that. You hear a song on the radio, or you see a performance, or, I don’t know, you randomly run into the band in a bar one night — whatever the moment, you’re impressed. You’re smiling, maybe a little slack-jawed, and probably using phrases like “frickin’ awesome” or “absolutely unbelievable.”
Because it is sort of unbelievable, to you at least. This band can’t possibly be that band you don’t like. You would never be caught dead with that band‘s music on your iPod. There’s no way that band could do something so cool, be such awesome people, put on such a kick-ass show, whatever. But suddenly you want to tell all your friends to forget what they think about that band and check out this band ASAP.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” or so the saying goes.
Well, don’t judge a band by their place on the record store shelves.
I would have never given N.E.R.D a chance if free tickets and/or Three Days Grace hadn’t been involved.
I arrived at UB’s Springfest this past Saturday too early or too late for my liking, depending on how you look at it. I’d already missed Lady Danville — who I’d never heard of until UB booked them, was excited to see, and who I’ve since heard won over the crowd, most of which held one or both of those sentiments as well — but I still had to sit through Anberlin and N.E.R.D to get to Three Days Grace.
As my Pharrell-obsessed friend worked her way up front for N.E.R.D, I hung back. I didn’t need to be enveloped in sweat and B.O. just yet.
Their set started out as expected. A zillion (OK, two or three), seemingly-unnecessary backup rappers/posse members crowded the stage in front of the band, and I made jokes to myself and prepared for what was about to assault my poor ears.
And I got what I expected — for a little bit. Right around the time they started rapping Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” (yes, there are two “r”s, and, yes, I know that off the top of my head; don’t judge me), I almost gave up. Springfest is supposed to be rock, so what were these guys doing there?
But then the mood totally changed. There were mosh pits and crowd-surfing. There were drums, guitars, bass and keyboards. It just so happened the guy singing had a super-smooth, R&B-style voice.
And I found myself grooving to the music without knowing it.
When it comes down to it, N.E.R.D actually is a rock band — not straightforward rock, but funk-rock, pop-rock and/or electronic-rock. They just combine it with hip-hop and R&B, which many rap-rock bands don’t. It gives them an advantage, because they’d fit well on a bill with a band like 3OH!3 and a band like The Roots. And — here’s the cool part — they rarely sample, like many hip-hop/rap/R&B acts do. All those beats, they’re totally theirs. That deserves some serious respect.
They also deserve it for two more things that many bands don’t do (or don’t do well), the first of which is involving the crowd. With rare exceptions, there’s nothing worse than when a band gets on stage and just plays. So when Pharrell not only pulled people on stage, but tried his hardest to get everyone in the arena involved, including the fairly-disinterested crowd in the stands, I started to take him more seriously.
The second thing he did was look out for the fans. Moshing and crowdsurfing can get dangerous, especially when there’s people in the crowd who aren’t out to have fun, but have an intent to injure for one reason or another. Something happened in the front of the crowd near the end of N.E.R.D’s set, and instead of ignoring it and continuing, Pharrell stopped and called out the guy involved, essentially telling him to cut it out, because what he was doing wasn’t cool.
And that’s, without a doubt, one of the coolest thing a band can do.