Gnarls Barkley first materialised in the charts in a spirit of playful mystery. Their single "Crazy" gained popularity with viral speed, captivating everyone from children to hip-hop heads, famously entering the chart at No. 1 on downloads alone, and recently being deleted by the band themselves, the only way they could stop people buying it.
But even as "Crazy" arrowed to the top, Gnarls Barkley kept their identities secret, as if the record was an enigmatic underground emission. Finally revealed as producer Danger Mouse and Atlanta rapper Cee-Lo, they continued to act like superheroes, or cartoon characters, in interviews. Along with the one-off craze for "Crazy", this has tainted them with the suspicion that they're a novelty act. Watching them live, though, and Cee-Lo in particular, you realise that they're serious, and a bigger mystery presents itself: the source of the schizoid spiritual agony which "Crazy" hints at, and is blatant on stage.
The crowd for this one-off London gig is healthy if hardly jammed, and it takes a while for an atmosphere to build. Big, bald Cee-Lo enters for "Go-Go Gadget Gospel", a title which summarises their sound, a mixture of camp fragments of Sixties spy themes, techno-hard beats, and a contrastingly heartfelt direct line to the black church.
Danger Mouse, a silent partner behind the keyboards, created this intricate, frenetic music. But Cee-Lo wrote the fascinating words, and charismatically powers the show. "The Boogie Monster" is typically announced by him as a "scary story", even though the monster in the lyrics is Cee-Lo himself, a split personality and spiritual malaise running through the songs on the album, St. Elsewhere.
The many band-members moving and clapping on stage make it seem a happy, lively place. But it's on "Just a Thought", about suicide, then "St. Elsewhere", about a flawed fantasy of escape, that a darker, more magnetic emotional connection is made. While Danger Mouse's keyboards swirl, Cee-Lo hangs on to the mic and throws his head back, transported. There's a soulful yearning in his voice that only comes out live. This isn't to discount the sheer sense of fun in Gnarls Barkley. "Crazy" plugs into all their virtues. When it comes, Danger Mouse's keyboards are smooth yet churchy, Cee-Lo lets rip with a gospel roar, and the crowd happily join in. Encouragingly for the band, they mostly stay for the encore, rightly feeling there's more here than a one-hit wonder.Reuse content