One night, two hip-hop heavyweights, one winner. London (November 11)
This is chaos. Around 20 nubile young girls are onstage dancing around assorted members of NERD, who are currently following their natural frontman Pharrell’s lead by yelling ‘Everyone Nose’’s ludicrous clarion call of “all the girls standing in the line for the bathroom”, aided immeasurably by a bassline so meaty it could make a vegan weep. Suddenly, the leader moves centre-stage and yells, “Let me see your fuckin’ Star Trek signs in the air!” as he raises his hands in the Vulcan salute. A rammed Roundhouse dutifully obliges.
Thing is, even though Pharrell really is a bona fide superstar who could easily overshadow the rest of the band – the shrieks accompanying his first few steps onstage confirm that – NERD are, quite simply, an astonishingly fun live prospect. Shay Haley and a cast of hype men do their best to deflect attention away from Williams; it’s to their credit they roundly succeed by keeping the crowd’s energy levels constantly in the red, and it’s to Williams’ that he knows when to shrink back and let Haley take the lead.
The band, meanwhile, are slicker than a breached tanker, and it’s no surprise when the familiar crunch of ‘Rock Star’ and a thumpingly heavy ‘Lapdance’ send the place into raptures. But when ‘Kill Joy’ and ‘Maybe’ are met with an almost equal level of reverence it’s clear this isn’t The Pharrell Show: despite effectively charging the crowd £1,500 a minute for their hour-long set, collectively NERD have the rock star chops to justify the attention.
Inevitable closer ‘She Wants To Move’ is so dripping with sex that NME actually, honestly, witnesses a girl hump a pillar. To her left a group of indie boys throw up their guns without a shred of irony; to the right some glammed-up girls pout as they snap new MySpace profile pictures. It’s par for the course – a more eclectic crowd would be hard to find, as would a more satisfied one when the lights eventually go up.