The Black Eyed Peas occupy an uncomfortable area of pop music, somewhere in between easily identifiable cheap schlock and irrefutable – often accidental – genius. There's no doubt that, as performers, they are top-notch, focusing all their energies on crowd satisfaction, but as artists they are either oddly flimsy under scrutiny, or woefully misconstrued. It was impossible during this gig to come down firmly on either side.
In a show that made the most of a big budget, flashing lights and audience frenzy, they powered through a setlist spanning eight years and just about as many genres. Playing up the Bladerunner factor with android vocals and strobe lighting, the Peas emerged in their most recent guise of vocoder visionaries, opening with "Rock That Body".
The unashamed commercialisation of techno synths and Auto-Tune reflects a grabbing of the pop-chart zeitgeist similar to that which got them their first number one in 2003 with the chorus-led, R&B-style "Where Is the Love?" The older hits are oddly juxtaposed with their latter direction, but there was a good range from the back catalogue, reminding us not only that they are one of the most successful acts of the Noughties, but also why: they proudly pander to the people.
But that feeds into something rather "concept" about the B.E.Ps: are they a group or a band? Are they hip-hop, R&B, tech-hop or electro? Are they any of these in fact?
The Peas also have an element of "supergroup" about them, with several members in the midst of successful solo careers, and they took care to build this into their show. Their support act, Cheryl Cole, has sung on Will.i.am's "Heartbreaker" (although she didn't take to the stage with him) and duetted with him for her recent single "3 Words". Her performance was hotly anticipated for the collaborative aspect it might have had (especially given the romantic rumours) but the two did not appear on stage together once. Cole's performance was strong, if not pyrotechnic, with capable, soaring vocals that only briefly tended towards shrill, and a gung-ho approach, with utterances like "This one's for all those strong women out there".
Singing six-pack Fergie undoubtedly has a good pair of lungs, impressing with powerful crescendos particularly in slower numbers like "Meet Me Halfway" and her signature ballad "Big Girls Don't Cry", and imbuing the banal, more-often-than-not meaningless lyrics with a dose of attitude, if not coherence. It is she and Will.i.am who stick in the mind. The other members' solo segments felt a little token.
The Black Eyed Peas have a huge appeal; fans will not have been disappointed with the show, which closed on the smash "I Gotta Feeling". Their music is audaciously appealing and the sterility of each track is made a virtue; the Peas are alchemists in search of the formula for fun.