EmptyGreek Theatre, Los Angeles
Wednesday, June 20
Wearing a floor-length cocktail dress, her hair up, Nelly Furtado looked like the Audrey Hepburn of modern pop midway through her sold-out show Wednesday night at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
Furtado has a girl-next-door, classy, yet free-spirited appeal, and that's when she was most vibrant during the 110-minute performance. But her attempts at playing the dance music diva didn't work at all, changing outfits five times and attempting some pseudo-production numbers.
The Canadian singer-songwriter is at heart a charming dorkette with a trilling and honest voice somewhere to the right of Stevie Nicks. Her best songs have been expressive quests for personal meaning in love and life, incorporating elements of folk, pop, hip-hop, Latin and her Portuguese heritage as well, though now she's now become the full-on pop star thanks to her most recent work with hot songwriter-producer-artist Timbaland on her latest album "Loose" (Geffen).
The glittery staging with a massive disco ball, risers and Day-Glo bright colors was ultrabusy, almost painfully Vegas. As she walked down the stairs in a tight red retro-'60s minidress and black stockings with heels, that Hepburn-gone-dance-club look was in effect, and she launched into the catchy, syncopated "Say It Right," followed by the teasing funk of "Turn Off the Light," from her 2000 debut album "Whoa, Nelly!"
But Furtado looked awkward trying to move with her quartet of male and female dancers, who were completely unnecessary anyway and hampered rather than enhanced the concert.
When the dancers went away, she turned to a captivating acoustic version of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," a torchy "Showtime" and plaintive "Try," accompanied by just piano until a U2-ish big rising finish. One had the feeling this was the real Nelly and the whole diva push was the wrong-headed concoction of managers and marketers.
Most of the night's material was drawn from "Loose" as she just dipped a bit into her first two albums. A heavy-handed treatment of her usually gliding first hit "I'm Like a Bird" almost crashed, until the audience joined in for the chorus.
The current release's dance-floor-friendly rhythms were carried by a breezy sexuality that was cute rather than pandering, thanks to her playful delivery. The hip-hop-driven "Promiscuous," thump-rock of "Maneater" and Brazilian-styled "No Hay Igual" revved up a party atmosphere at the end of the show, when she finally looked most comfortable, a woman at play, the diva costumes finally shed for another side of that real Nelly.