N.E.R.D Kool Haus, Toronto ON - July 19, 2004

After a mediocre sophomore release and a recent Tonight Show appearance both highlighting their failings as commanders of traditional instruments, it was difficult to know just what to expect from N*E*R*D's first real Canadian show. The biggest question: how, exactly, would the champion producers-turned-novice rockers carry their disappointing, play-it-ourselves studio decision of their recent Fly Or Die release to the stage with a more positive result? The answer was to leave all playing to their impressive tour mates, Spymob (co-architects of the stellar In Search Of record), and to restrict their own rockin' to the M-I-C. On stage, this winning combination tore through both N*E*R*D tracks and Pharrell solo collabos with an energy and ferocity that set the spirit of each song noticeably apart from its original, limited form. Seeming as entirely at home in front of the crowd as he has proven himself to be in the studio, Pharrell — in the absence of partner Chad Hugo — lent his endearing personality to every aspect of the show, often calling for vocal assistance from his audience, and creatively setting up a number of songs with improvised beat-boxed versions, aided by sidekick Shay. While works from their classic debut disc had the most impact, an unexpected surprise was found in the vitality injected into the many sub-par efforts found on Fly Or Die. Such a feat was as much a testament to the live abilities of Spymob as it was a reminder of the band's unfortunate absence from N*E*R*D's latest record. To their own end, the four-piece from Minneapolis took this opportunity to show the world that they're a hell of a lot more than just the Neptunes' musical monkeys. With a short but poignant four-song mini-set of music from their new album, Sitting Around Keeping Score, Spymob had many studious audience members taking notice, blending classic rock stompers inflected with tinges of electronic programming, and led by the soulful voice of their keyboard playing lead vocalist, John Ostby. While an N*E*R*D/Spymob tour tag-team might lay bare the former's apparent dependency on the latter to really make the Neptunes' ideas hit home, one certainly can't deny their untied ability to make a crowd move the way it's supposed to.