Played onto the Claridge stage by a super tight band, the flamboyant, golden-voiced Green appeared in red-trimmed leopard-print mumu, which screamed both comfort and sartorial splendour all at once. Stopping on a dime, his backing crew launched into the icy, synthetic crunch of, “Are We Not Men, We are Devo” as he asked the crowd to shout “We want CeeLo!!!” in the sweet spot.
And they did!
Audience duly pumped, the brilliance continued with a 180 degree hard left turn into “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. The Stooges? What a way to grab the audience by their collective lapels, lift them up and pin them to the wall. Hot Chocolate’s late 70s smash, “Everyone’s a Winner” was teed up and cranked out of the Le Breton park next. Welcome to McCeeLo! He knew enough to steer back toward his own “Bright Lights, Bigger City”, which really came off far more powerfully live than it does on record.
Though he did perform the obligatory Gnarls Barkley hit that first brought his smooth tenor to the attention of the fickle public gallery in 2006 (“Crazy”), it is the kaleidoscope of covers that were spun out effortlessly which really caught the ear. “Let’s Dance”, “Jungle Boogie”, “Need You Tonight” all happened, with a funky, wet dream detour into Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” that seamlessly tiptoed into Ellington’s own “Caravan”. Medleys, fragments abound, “I Feel Good”,”Hey Joe” (Hendrix version) bounced wildly off of “Rock the Casbah” and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”. Minds blown by this dazzling array of “other artistry”, all that was necessary was the signature riff of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and his own “Fuck You” to sweep up the broken pieces.
By this time, I had already made the pilgrimage across the field to catch the Arkells. CeeLo is a giant among live performers, owing in no small part to a peerless set of pipes.
Photo Credit: Mark Horton/ Bluesfest Wire Service