EmptyVenue: Hollywood Bowl (Sunday, July 27).
Even a dynamic duo needs its heroes. That point was made clear Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl when Gnarls Barkley turned to Radiohead, covering the British group’s “Reckoner” during its encore. That surprise move turned out to be the highlight of the act’s pleasant but less-than-stunning 75-minute set.
That the psychedelic soul duo opted to cover Radiohead seemed oddly appropriate considering it finds itself in a predicament the British band faced 15 years ago when it was blessed -- or cursed -- with a huge hit called “Creep.” The song hung around Radiohead like an albatross until it temporarily disowned it and reinvented itself into one of the most exciting and daring acts on the planet.
Gnarls Barkley, the duo consisting of singer Cee-Lo Green and producer/multi-instrumentalist Danger Mouse, scored a similar monster hit in 2006 with “Crazy.” While it has released two stellar albums, Sunday’s performance suggested that Gnarls is at a creative crossroads and might need to reconfigure its sound in order to draw the heat that first made fans mad for “Crazy.”
Perhaps in a hint that the band wants to be taken more seriously, it ditched the kitschy costumed homages to “The Wizard of Oz” and “Star Wars” employed in the past in favor of glittery blue tuxedo jackets. The hefty, bald-headed Green was fine in voice and had a commanding stage presence, while Danger Mouse, manning the keyboards at center stage, retained his low-key creative genius persona hiding behind a pair of sunglasses.
The duo’s five-member backing band provided ample support, with keyboardist/guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and guitarist Clint Walsh giving particularly animated performances. Yet despite their efforts, Gnarls had a hard time rousing the crowd.
In fact, at one point when exhorting fans to get out of their seats and shake their assets, Green quipped, “I’m 300 pounds, so if I can do it, you can do it, too.” That’s not to say Green and company didn’t have their moments. It’s hard to resist the band’s cover of the Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone,” with Danger Mouse on xylophone, and “Run,” from the band’s second album, “The Odd Couple,” was performed with frantic intensity.
Before the band dipped in “Crazy” late in the set, Green said, “I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times, but I’m contractually obligated to perform it.” Although the singer later claimed he was joking, the big hit did feel a bit obligatory. Much more moving was “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul,” which began with Danger Mouse solo on an organ and drum machine before being joined by the rest of the band and had Green belting out his quest for redemption on the wall of the orchestra pit. But it was the cover of “Reckoner” that served as the set’s much-needed unexpected twist.