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Gnarls Barkley’s True Character Shines in Athens


Getting people to pay more than $5 for a show in a town with as many service jobs and students as Athens, Georgia, is difficult. Packing a venue at $25 a ticket on a Tuesday in the summer when many of those students are gone? Rare.

But despite the challenges, last night’s (Aug. 12) Gnarls Barkley gig — featuring opener Elf Power — was in high demand; fans bought scalped tickets to the sold-out show, and some even snuck in. And once inside, they found bodies butting against the merchandise table, and the bars packed with members of local bands like Dark Meat, Hope for Agoldensummer, and Ham 1.

The most shocking item, however, arrived during the first song of the encore, and it was no bigger than one of the singer’s meaty fingers. Cee-Lo, the self-named “Soul Machine,” emerged from backstage for “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” holding a cigarette, then proceeded to sing in a crystal clear, well-deep voice that can leap anywhere in key. Not exactly an anti-smoking ad.

“This is a great show tonight, man,” Cee-Lo said. “This is where we met,” he explained, referring to Danger Mouse (Brian Burton), the other half of Gnarls who’s an Athens OG having once worked as a DJ for WUOG-FM, the University of Georgia’s student radio station.

Though tracks like “Gone Daddy Gone” (a Violent Femmes cover), “Reckoner” (a Radiohead cover), and “Crazy” (which Cat Power and Of Montreal have covered on the same stage), the duo invited the packed house to sing and dance, and the crowd abided.

Gnarls Barkley no longer have to dress up like characters from Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, or Napoleon Dynamite — they can certainly rely on their own peculiar image: The cool but distant producer, who hunches over instruments and bobs his head, and the frontman who creates a scene with cinematic storytelling and the billowing wisps he exhales.

Check out pictures from last night on page 2.

Danger Mouse commands the keys / Photo by Julia Norman

With a wink and smile, Cee-Lo settles into 40 Watt Club / Photo by Julia Norman

Cee-Lo leads the crowd through a few dance moves / Photo by Julia Norman

Cee-Lo: evidently confused by the ‘hands in the air’ phenomenon / Photo by Julia Norman