Picking up where they left off last week at the Grammy Awards, the Black Eyed Peas kicked off their world tour at Atlanta’s Philips Arena Thursday night, creating an over-the-top electronic-hip-hop-pop-rock’n’roll circus, costarring hometown hero Ludacris and party boys LMFAO.
LMFAO took the stage first and immediately established the fact this was more of a party than a concert. “Where are all my alcoholics at?!” was met with a big cheer, despite the fact it wasn’t even 8 P.M. The lighthearted, groove-happy duo serenaded the crowd via auto-tune, subbed Atlanta into “I’m in Miami, Bitch,” and had back-up dancers that included kids bizarrely dressed up in Lego costumes. It was like if the Flaming Lips ran head first into the Beastie Boys of the future… at a party.
IfLMFAO turned the room into a bash, Ludacris transformed it into a club. A superstar in his own right, homeboy blasted rap over a slew of thumping hits, including “Southern Hospitality,” “Money Maker,” and “Pimpin’ All Over the World,” evoking sights and sounds from Atlanta’s raging club scene circa 2002.
Living up to his entrepreneurial status, Luda wasn’t being shy about plugging his upcoming record, “Battle of the Sexes,” as well as his new line of cognac. “I love y’all Atlanta. Hey y’all might remember this one,” he spouted, before launching into “What’s Your Fantasy,” which ended with the audience delivering the rapid-fire styling (lick-lick-lick-you) of the chorus.
While the capacity crowd was certainly partial to their local superstar, there’s no question who they were there to see.
The Black Eyed Peas’ setup resembled an awards show, decked in LCD screens, catwalks, underlit runways, and a perched stage for the live band. Multiple hologram faces hovered above the crowd; “Welcome to the end,” said one in a static-y voice. The group, dressed in what looked like military outfits made out of a disco ball, rose through stage floor amid smoke and laser beams.
Launching into “Let’s Get Retarded,” the Peas bounced about the stage while the sheer size of the production knocked you on your ass: Every flat surface was a screen blinding with hyper-colors, the sound seemed to come at you from all angles, dancers dressed as transformer speakers marched along perfectly in sync. It felt like being transplanted into a sci-fi movie or that scary boat ride in the original Willy Wonka.
“Welcome to our first night of our world tour,” Taboo exclaimed. “And what better place to get it started than Atlanta!”
Not surprisingly, the group wasted little time getting to the crowd pleasers, pummeling through “Rock Your Body,” “My Humps,” and “Don’t Phunk with my Heart.” The showmanship was one part theatrical (members flying through the air) and one part predictable (banter seemingly already rehearsed and already stale).
But 30 minutes into the two-hour set, Will.I.Am showed he could bring it old school, as he rapped spontaneously with lines that fans had texted him, tackling topics as they appeared on the giant screens… all while getting the band to speed up the tempo as he went. It was impressive, no matter which side of the “love ’em, hate ’em” pop debate you are on.
Later, the four members each took a solo turn. Apl.de.ap tossed his mic mid-song to breakdance, Taboo spit game as he rode through the air on a space-age motorcycle suspended from the ceiling, and Fergie solicited sing-a-longs from “Fergulicious,” “Glamorous,” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”
“Do you mind if I turn this arena into a motherfuckin’ club tonight?!” was Will.I.Am’s solo intro. Mixing and mashing Michael Jackson, Nirvana, and House of Pain, he threw the crowd into a frenzy of fist pumping, dancing, and jumping up and down. It was a perfect way to re-energize a crowd with the rarely-used tactic of blasting other people’s music.
“This feels a little bit like the first day of school,” said Fergie genuinely. The group, after a third or fourth costume change, reunited to close the show with the punky-athem “Now Generation” and borderline-cheesy sing-along “Where is the Love.”
While it was certainly sensory overload at times — sight, sound, and even social media fused into an overwhelming and extreme production — the Black Eyed Peas know their place among mainstream pop culture. They push the boundaries of what it means to be one of the top-selling acts in music today.