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Cee-Lo Rocks Some Nasty Sh*t at New York City Party

The livelier half of Gnarls Barkley brings it all to a set celebrating his powerful new album.

“We’re on the eve of a monumental event,” Cee-Lo Green purred, two songs in to a rollicking set Thursday night at the W hotel in midtown Manhattan, the latest show in W’s Symmetry Live Concert Series. “This deserves a toast.”

With a wink and his signature maniacal grin, the singer, whose highly praised third solo album, Lady Killer, dropped this week, raised a glass of champagne to himself. Hundreds of hands filled with Heinkens and vodka tonics joined him. Everybody took a healthy swig. Then Green flung off his cream-colored cape, revealing an immaculate matching suit underneath, and launched into “Champain,” off his pre-Lady Killer, hype-stoking mixtape Stray Bullets.

The man certainly knows how to entertain. Sure, the venue’s sound was terrible, the crowd was an odd mix of cubicle drones and professionally fabulous Kardashian wannabes, the space was low-ceilinged, carpeted, and tonight will probably host some Wall Street exec’s kid’s Bar Mitzvah, but the show was a total blast because Cee-Lo Green is a star. And a star knows how to host a great party.

Green has been showcasing his luscious whine and outsized persona on great hip-hop and soul tracks since the early 90s, first as a member of Atlanta rap group Goodie Mob and then on his two previous solo records. But it’s his role as the vocal half of platinum-selling group Gnarls Barkley that’s made Green famous. With Gnarls, he’s a smooth-talking, scene-making, self-deprecating ladies man who brings the personality and verve needed to sell producer Danger Mouse’s swaggering tracks. Gnarls has given Green a second chance at a solo career and he’s embracing it.

Thursday night’s show was meant as a full-on advertisement for The Lady Killer; the thirteen-song set included only two tracks not off the album. But because the sound was so cacophonous and the scene so ragged (despite attendance by a few bold-ish names: designer Christian Siriano, singer James Blunt, and members of Cobra Starship,) the nuanced genre-meld that makes the record compelling was lost.

On your iPod, “Old Fashioned” is an affecting ballad, but beneath flimsy ceiling tiles it just sounded muddy and unfocused. Ditto the horn-driven, elegant supplication of “I Want You.”

You could blame the imprecision on the band – four stylishly hot hired guns: one brunette guitarist, one blonde keyboardist, one afro-sporting, sunglass-wearing drummer, and one red-headed bassist – but they weren’t really responsible, as a backing track played throughout the set.

Songs that rely less on intricate production and more on brute pop prowess fared better.

Green’s new single, “Bright Lights Bigger City,” a club-ready disco romp got people grinding. And the dynamic, soaring “Fool for You” provided a much-needed mini-break from crazed dancing and, for more than one temporary couple, an opportunity to sloppily make out.

But there was really one song that everybody wanted to hear and Cee-Lo played it – and he played it right. The incongruous black-and-white film projections, the iffy spotlighting, and the fact that we had to wait all night didn’t dampen the power of the live (ish) version of neo-soul meme and acknowledged best-new-breakup-song-in-the-universe, “Fuck You.”

The entire crowd seemed to be exorcizing the same collective heartbreak as they shouted along to the inimitable chorus: “I see you driving ’round town/ With the girl I love and I’m like/ Fuck you!/ I guess the change in my pocket/ Wasn’t enough I’m like/ Fuck you! And fuck her too!”

Then many in the crowd stumbled home together. As Cee-Lo might say, “Ain’t that some shit?”

Set List:
The Lady Killer Theme
Cho Cha
I Want You
Cry Baby
Old Fashioned
Bright Lights Bigger City
Fool for You
It’s OK
Fuck You