NEW YORK — Braving the unexpectedly intense heat of a New York City fall day, N.E.R.D. brought even more fire to their Thursday (September 23) Times Square performance. Shay Haley and Pharrell Williams of the hip-hop alterna-rock crew (fellow member Chad Hugo was
absent) played to a slew of die-hard N.E.R.D. fans at a day-long event in celebration of Honda’s spankin’ new CR-Z Hybrid Coupe.
During a warm-up set from downtown selector DJ Lindsay, featuring sunny tunes from Janelle Monáe and Madonna, concertgoers milled about under the supersized Times Square ads as a clock counted down the seconds until N.E.R.D.’s performance. Then, around 12:30, the duo hit the stage under the powerful midday sun, aptly opening the set with their balmy summer single “Hot-N-Fun.” Supported by a live five-piece outfit, which included two drum kits, and flanked by two ever-undulating backup dancers, the fellas led an audience of sharply dressed fans — and a few curious tourists along the sidelines — through their sultry hit.
Pharrell and Shay handled the stage with easy swagger, both sporting a basic T-shirt and jeans look and casually rattling off their lyrics, ramping up the energy as needed. After setting the tone with the well-known “Hot-N-Fun,” Shay stepped back as Pharrell commanded the stage with “Help Me,” a cut from their forthcoming LP Nothing. Pharrell worked the downtempo opening verse with his chill sing-song vocals before the producer/MC bellowed “I won’t kill you/but I’ll let you die!” as the track crescendoed with frantic instrumentation. Fans bopped along to the song’s bluesy valleys and punk-rock peaks and whooped when Pharrell referenced America’s ongoing overseas conflicts and yelled “How many want the soldiers to come home?”
The three-song set was brief but didn’t sacrifice powerhouse energy as the band closed with their debut hit “Lapdance.” The dancers went into overdrive as the crowd went nuts to the hard-charging, rap-rock beat. Pharrell showed the city some love, revamping the lyrics and shouting, “…while people in New York gonna make some noise for me!” The band mixed up the mosh-pit energy with a sleek mid-song breakdown, during which Pharrell quipped about the heat, saying “Everybody in New York, Say hello to the sun.”
After asking the audience, “How many people know they’re gonna change the world someday?” he coaxed the crowd into crouching down — even calling out the fans too cool to get low. Then, Pharrell commanded everyone to jump up and scream “Hell yeah!” as the fans and the frontman rocked out to the roiling beat — in the boiling heat — together.
Were you at N.E.R.D.’s Times Square show? Tell us about it in the comments!