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Concert Review by Nick Morgan

CeeLo Green

Cee Lo Green
Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, March 29th 2011

Under normal circumstances I would struggle to imagine what I had in common with ‘larger than life’ Cee Lo Green.  This remarkable singer, who, following his triumphs with Mighty Mouse and Gnarls Barkley, last year produced The Ladykiller, a simply wonderful soul album whose vocal style and arrangements hark back to what we all like to imagine was the Golden Age of the late sixties and early seventies.  I simply don’t have the voice, song-writing skills or the jewellery. 

What I have got is a stinking head-cold, sinusitis to boot and  bad enough to mean that it’s only the rare opportunity to see someone of Green’s talents that have got me up from my sick-bed.  Cee Lo has a cold too, as his people seem to have been quick to point out to reviewers of his earlier UK shows.  Perhaps not as bad as mine (that’s retrospective self-pity for you but it was my birthday as well) but it has an evident effect upon his voice and might also account for the relative brevity of the show.

Ebony Bone
Ebony Bone

My condition certainly didn’t put me in a benign mood for the support acts.  I found Maverick Sabre’s hopelessly affected vocals hopelessly affected; seeing him subsequently on TV hasn’t done anything to reduce my sense of irritation or change my mind.  In case you don’t know, he is really called Michael Stafford, was born in Hackney of Irish heritage and, despite his Caribbean inflection (should that be infliction?), is very white.  I was also frankly bewildered by, but slightly more favourably inclined towards, Ebony Bone’s brilliantly bonkers set, with high energy percussion, frantic dancing and headache-piercing vocals. 

Mr Green finally took the stage at around 9.30, the impatient audience (did I mention that the Empire was packed?) immediately setting its frustrations aside and letting its love ring out for Cee Lo.  It’s lucky they were in a forgiving mood, for sadly his vocals were not up to full strength. Beginning with ‘The Ladykiller’ and ‘Bright Lights’, a few things were quickly evident.  His band were very loud, and more hard-edged rock and roll than soul.  Not to say they weren’t good: the bass player in particular could have walked into the Ramones, but they weren’t quite the best foil for someone who was struggling to find full voice.  And, as a rocking four-piece (I am, by the way, obliged to say that they were women dressed in painfully tight outfits) it was left to inadequate keyboards and computers to provide the backing arrangements and vocals, which sounded frankly tinny.  In fact the Empire’s sound system wasn’t at its best, and as the engineers tried to help out the vocals with every trick they could (often too much echo), the sound quality went somewhat awry.


CeeLo Green

All that being said, Mr Green has a wonderfully powerful and joyous stage presence, and an obviously irrepressible enthusiasm for his songs and indeed, for his audience.  He performed a selection from The Ladykiller album, ending in a predictably climactic ‘Fuck you’ (here at last were lyrics that the whole audience could deliver with a practised professionalism), threw in a few Gnarls songs (‘Smiley faces’, ‘Gone daddy gone’ and ‘Crazy’) and finished with an odd reprise of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect day’, all to an increasingly frenzied acclaim.  And I’m not sure that anyone felt particularly cheated when he left the stage after only an hour.  As far as I was concerned it meant that I could get back to my bed, and the very serious business of feeling sorry for myself. – Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

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