Nelly Furtado: Toronto Phoenix Concert Theatre

In advance of the Juno Awards, Nelly Furtado gets her Hit out...

“What’s up Toronto?”, asks Nelly Furtado for the first of many times this evening. Canada’s young, Latin-pop diva has just taken the stage, and some people in the under-age section are going ballistic. As the gig sold out in about forty minutes, the swollen theatre is packed beyond capacity.

Judging by all the industry-types lurking around the bar, one can assume a large guest list had something to do with the lightning-fast sell-out. This is an important homecoming show for Furtado, and her friends and family no doubt swell the ranks.

It’s also Furtado’s warm-up for a much-hyped appearance at Saturday’s Juno Awards, for which she has received several nominations. Alas, it’s a bit of an uphill battle for Nelly. She’s still a one hit (granted, it’s an international hit) artist who hasn’t quite yet built up her live chops – though it’s not from any lack of enthusiasm on the part of Furtado or her slick band. She bops convincingly enough through the faster-paced tracks ‘Hey, Man!’ and ‘Baby Girl’, but one still gets the feeling her management has thrown her in the deep end.

And in the second half of the set, where Portuguese ballads take over (Furtado’s voice actually shines brightest on these), the ‘Saturday Night Fever’-inclined audience gets a little restless. Many of them, of course, only know the big song. The constant sound glitches don’t help either. Braided fellow-Canuck Esthero (who’s perhaps pondering a career shift from failed alternative chic to pop) emerges for a duet, but her mic fails – so they perform the song a second time. Obviously this show is being recorded for more than just posterity.

Yet, there is a definite excitement on stage. The audience is finally given what it came to hear – the hit single ‘I’m Like A Bird’ – and by this time Furtado seems much more at ease. The show is heartening, in a way. Despite the obvious hype machine at work, Furtado is miles ahead of the other pseudo-Latin popsters on the charts. With a little more experience, our Nelly might even raise a few standards.

Chris Rolfe