IRVINE, California — White, black, big, small … there was a lot of variety onstage at the Sprite Liquid Mix Tour on Friday. Variety of bras, that is.
The music was not as diverse. Hip-hop, led by the bra-beseeching Pharrell Williams and N.E.R.D., was the dominant force as the second annual traveling festival hit the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.
Main stage openers Robert Randolph & the Family Band and O.A.R., sandwiched between Talib Kweli and the Roots, brought roots-rock flavor to the show, but the most fans in the sea of trucker hats and throwback jerseys couldn’t have cared less.
The eight girls in identical homemade “Pharrell” wifebeaters were not there to expand their musical palettes. The guy with the ?uestlove-like afro was not there to try out the skateboard park. For most, the agenda was to, as Kweli put it, “Move Somethin’.”
N.E.R.D., then, were the ideal headliners. While Williams and rapper Shay were not always in sync with the band, and while their catalog (as a group, not producers) isn’t as hit-packed as most bands who headline the venue, they do know how to throw a party. The place was even hopping while roadies set up N.E.R.D.’s gear, thanks to a fleet of breakdancers that included a toddler.
Once Pharrell and posse did enter and rip into “Brain,” the crowd went so crazy that even the usually reserved Chad Hugo flashed an enormous smile and stepped away from his keyboard for a little dancing.
“Do you really even love me?” Williams sang on the chorus, prompting increased screams.
The band — Williams, Hugo, Shay and side stage performers Spymob — then launched into the sing-along “Provider,” which slowed down the tempo but not the party.
By the third song, N.E.R.D. felt comfortable enough to play the first of several new songs, a mid-tempo number called “Thrasher” for “the skaters,” according to Williams. Other new tracks, due next year on Fly or Die, included a somber tune about suicide and a pure R&B number called “Let’s Go Together.”
Just when the audience began to lose interest, Williams asked for a little favor. “I want some bras onstage!” And he got what he wished for — so many that he struggled to collect the undergarments and sing “Rock Star” at the same time.
“Lapdance” might have been the more fitting hit for the R-rated scene, but N.E.R.D. saved that for the finale. In between, Williams took a few minutes to advertise the just released The Neptunes Present … Clones and even perform the first single, “Frontin’,” which was a crowd favorite.
As much love as N.E.R.D. got from the nearly sold-out amphitheater, the Roots almost stole the show from under them. As if dual guitars and dual drums weren’t enough, the premier hip-hop band offered dual vocals on a couple of tracks, with friend Common joining Black Thought onstage.
Although the group played material from all five of its studio albums, the highlights were the more freeform jam sessions, especially a take on the classic “Apache,” featuring a ?uestlove solo.
Speaking of jams, O.A.R. took all eight songs in their hour-long set into new territory, from the beginning bass groove of “Revisited” to the ending guitar lick in “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker,” the band’s signature live tune.
Adding to the band’s already vibrant sound was the addition of keyboardist Gabe Dixon, who played discreetly for the first couple of tunes but broke out in a monster solo during the infectious “Hey Girl.” The most impressive solo, though, came from steel guitar virtuoso Robert Randolph, who joined O.A.R. for “Anyway.” Like Dixon, Randolph stayed in the background, until Marc Roberge sang, “A wise man once said to me, I feel no pain” and looked toward him, signaling his opportunity to jam.
Roberge sang more and more passionately as the set went on and the band was further harassed by hip-hop fans. At one point, the frustrated singer told a heckler, “I’m just doing my job.”
Talib Kweli took the stage earlier and immediately broke the norm of hip-hop performances by prominently featuring two backup singers along with his DJ, who added a feminine touch to his sharp delivery. Kweli jumped into freestyling quickly, commenting on everything from his Von Dutch hat to world politics. “F— George Bush, but I ain’t a Dixie Chick,” he rapped, drawing an “oooh” from the crowd.
Even Los Angeles’ own Xzibit joined in on the freestyling fun, name-dropping his hits after trading verses with Kweli on their 2000 collaboration, “Down for the Count.”
Kweli’s set seemed to build with each song from “Good to You” to “Move Somethin’,” so it was a perfect punctuated ending when he broke into “Get By.”
“We keeping it gangster/ Say fo’ shizzle, fo’ sheezy and stayin’ crunk,” the crowd rapped along with Kweli. “It’s easy to pull a breezy/ Smoke trees, and we stay drunk.”
The bras weren’t flying yet, but they were loosening up.
The Sprite Liquid Mix Tour hits Dallas on Tuesday (see “Roots, N.E.R.D., Talib Kweli To Perform On Second Sprite Music Tour” ).
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.