HOLLYWOOD — It's probably safe to say the winners of the second Shortlist Prize for Artistic Achievement in Music don't need the $6,000 in gift certificates that come with the award.
N.E.R.D., the hip-hop funk-rock band created by millionaire producers the Neptunes, received the esteemed prize on Tuesday for their ambitious debut album, In Search Of ...
Listmakers including Mos Def, Jill Scott and Iggy Pop selected the record from 10 Shortlist finalists that included the Hives' Veni Vidi Vicious and Björk's Vespertine during a private dinner before a celebration concert at the Henry Fonda Theatre.
"MTV Awards are cool, Grammys are prestigious, but this is like mega cool," N.E.R.D. co-founder Pharrell Williams said.
"This focuses more on artistic ability," his partner Chad Hugo added. "It's not about politics. It's just what our peers think is dope, which makes it special."
N.E.R.D. were among the performers at the event, ironically spending several minutes of their stage time thanking fans for helping In Search Of ... go gold. Those sales figures were apparently achieved after the album made the Shortlist, since one of the qualifications is that each nominated record sell fewer than 500,000 copies.
Although awarding N.E.R.D. hardly made for the same sentimental moment as when little- known Icelandic soundscapers Sigur Rós were handed the trophy last year after flying in from their home country (see "Sigur Ros Beat Out Talib Kweli, Gorillaz For Shortlist Prize"), there was no question about whether the group deserved to win.
While Shortlist founders and music industry veterans Greg Spotts and Tom Sarig said last year it was nearly a tie, Listmakers this year said the panel came to a much clearer consensus. Dan "The Automator" Nakamura and less predictable artists like Jill Scott and Iggy Pop all said they championed N.E.R.D.
"The right album won," Pop said. "It's a great record and the best overall. I also like the Hives. They took chances."
Next to N.E.R.D., Iggy himself was the talk of the evening. Pop headlined the night as part of an all-star band featuring Howlin' Pelle Almqvist and Vigilante Carlstroem of the Hives on guitars, legendary Minutemen/ Firehose bassist Mike Watt and singer/songwriter Pete Yorn playing drums. The band busted out "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and other Stooges classics, complete with a shirtless Pop and his signature dance moves.
"We picked all the [Stooges songs] with just once chord," Almqvist said of their set, "so we didn't have to worry about f---ing up."
N.E.R.D.'s set was not quite as inspired, partly because Williams, Hugo and their band played without rapper Shay, who was, according to Williams, "locked up."
Williams, who slid from one side of the stage to the other as women stretched to touch him, made for an ample frontman, however, crooning the hooks of "Lapdance" and "Provider."
Before bringing out Mos Def and the Roots' Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson to help close N.E.R.D.'s set with the infectious "Rock Star," Williams exploded into a tirade on their Virgin Records label for not properly supporting In Search Of ... and compared their struggle to survive in the music business with that of a gladiator's fight for life.
Cee-Lo opened the show with a short but splendid display of favorites from his Shortlist-nominated Cee-Lo Green and his Perfect Imperfections.
DJ Shadow, whose The Private Press was also nominated, then hit the stage, taking the typical two turntables DJ set to the next level by including a sampler that he hit like Eric Clapton plays a guitar, multiple CD players and visuals that enhanced the music even further.
"Tonight I'm going to show you basically what I do in my studio," Shadow said to a roar of applause. "And I'm going to use only records that I made."
Hip-hop soul newcomer Cody Chesnutt also made a surprise appearance, as did journalist Toure and Mos Def for a spoken-word bit.
Unlike last year, when the performers made the Shortlist the centerpiece of the evening by repeatedly encouraging everyone to buy the nominated albums, Tuesday was more of a concert with an award given out at the end.
The Shortlist, which was narrowed down to 10 from 75 albums, also included the latest releases by the Avalanches, the Doves, the Flaming Lips and Zero 7.
U2's Larry Mullen Jr., Alanis Morissette, Beck, India.Arie, Paul Oakenfold, Metallica's Lars Ulrich, Blur's Damon Albarn, Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and the Strokes' Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi were also Listmakers, but did not attend Tuesday's event (see "Strokes, Neptunes, Beck, Spike Jonze Nominate Discs For Shortlist").
Williams and Hugo were among the Listmakers who determined the long list, nominating the Hives and the Vines, but were not involved once N.E.R.D. made the Shortlist.