If there's one notion that Cee Lo Green's set confirmed Friday night at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, it's that a theater full of tipsy partiers don't need much incentive to shout "F*ck you!"
Co-headlining a Grammy-weekend show with fellow Atlanta rap heavyweight Big Boi, Green applied an exclamation point to the wild evening by simply pointing his microphone toward the crowd during the chorus of his R-rated kiss-off anthem. They responded giddily.
The song, which earned five Grammy nominations and one win, offered a real spark in Green's production-plagued set, which started with a 20-minute review of the old school --the big man, racing through Goodie Mob material with Big Gipp, Khujo and T-Mo. Even as electric as a little "Soul Food" was, the night belonged to Big Boi, who had earlier jolted the joint with songs old and new.
Fronting a big band that delivered a lot of sass (courtesy of the red track-suited dancers the Crowd Pleasers) and plenty of brass (thanks to Horns Unlimited), the 35-year-old rapper kicked off his set with with a trio of OutKast favorites, "Rosa Parks," "So Fresh, So Clean" and "Ms. Jackson" -- the last a request from the audience.
It was a savvy piece of tone-setting. With his flow meticulous and the call-and-response with his hype men spot on, Big Boi ripped through "General Patton," "Follow Us," and "Daddy Fat Sax" from his acclaimed 2010 album Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. Then, amid some backflips from the Crowd Pleasers, back to 2003 and 2000 for "GhettoMusick" and "Bombs Over Baghdad."
During the latter, pompadoured star Janelle Monae crashed the party, but there was no "Tightrope," only a few hugs and some of her slick dance moves. In fact, the show proved a little light on the teased "special guests." Monae's cameo and the Goodie Mob's reunion had to suffice on a night secret shows (Bruno Mars and the Smeezingtons at Bardot, Arcade Fire at the Ukranian Cultural Center) ruled the Los Angeles landscape.
Big Boi finished as if he were the only show in town, though, skipping through his catalog for "Elevators," "Fo Yo Sorrows," "Shutterbugg," "Kryptonite," "Tangerine," and "You Ain't No DJ," the latterhighlighting the skills of Cutmaster Swiff and, in sum, stamping him as one of top must-see-live acts in hip-hop.
It posed a tough act to follow, and Green and the Goodie Mob gamely tried to pick up where Big Boi left off, even as the crowd -- clearly there to see Cee Lo as The Lady Killer -- fidgeted. When it came time to serve up some soul, Green, backed only by a peacoated, four-woman rock band, was sabotaged by sound problems. Backing tracks on "The Lady Killer Theme" intro hiccupped, and throughout the first half of his R&B set (highlighted by "Georgia," "Wildflower," "I Want You," and "Satisfied" off his glowing 2010 album) there was an obvious disconnect between his mic and monitors, leaving his flame-broiled vocals burning too low in the mix.
He finally rallied with "Bright Lights, Bigger City" and "Fool for You," a winning duet with opener Melanie Fiona, following it with the Gnarls Barkley smash "Crazy." But despite a punked-up cover of the Violent Femmes' "Gone Daddy Gone," it was clear that a lot of the crowd's love -- and a good portion of the crowd itself -- was gone.
It was clear the only way to go out was with the single that launched a thousand F-bombs.
Noting Valentine's Day was just around the corner, Green asked, "How many people here are single and don't want to be? I wrote a song just for you."