POP: Black Eyed Peas Hammersmith Apollo London ooo99

IT'S NOT often that Chiswick is name-checked at a hip hop gig, but this was no ordinary rap showcase. For Black Eyed Peas are a rarity in the genre as an outfit that came to fame on the live circuit. And it showed throughout the course of a vibrant hour-and-a-half set.

They came to fame with the infectious, if sanctimonious, "Where Is The Love?", the UK's biggest-selling single of 2003, thanks only in part to Justin Timberlake's chorus.

Such success has cut little ice with their record company, who postponed the follow-up to breakthrough album Elephunk last November to concentrate on the sudden success of labelmate The Game, this year's 50 Cent. It was only the latest setback for the group, following a studio fire last summer. Their fourth album Monkey Business is now due for an April release.

If any of this bothered the quartet of three rappers and a female vocalist, they refused to show it as they bounced on stage. After the success of their mammoth hit, the Peas could have chosen the R&B route, but as the MCs swapped their party lines, they were clearly sticking to their hip- hop roots.

Will.i.am, the dreadlocked Afro-American, could have been the group's spiritual leader, though he proved to be the earthiest performer. It was left to the Filipino Apl.de.ap to freestyle on the group's progression from Camden clubs to the Hammersmith Apollo, via a three-month stint in Chiswick - where between tour commitments they recorded tracks for the forthcoming album. Taboo, high cheekbones betraying his Native-American and Hispanic heritage, was the smooth operator. Fergie had her say, too, albeit as a more presentable Pink than their version of the Fugees' Lauryn Hill.

Apart from a perfunctory "Make some noise!" at the start, there was no need for the interminable call and responses beloved of the genre's biggest stars. Nor were the musicians added as an afterthought, but an integral part of the show. They were especially adept at re-creating classic funk samples, and interrupted a blues shuffle to allow Fergie a few bars of "Like A Virgin".

Otherwise, the set relied heavily on the more robust tracks from Elephunk, notably the sassy "Shut Up" and the party anthem "Labor Day". Before its postponement, Will.i.am had promised the new album would be just as raw as these numbers, though the only clear evidence was a short, sharp "Pumping", where they matched the "Misirlou" surf guitar from Pulp Fiction with a ferocious backbeat.

Try as they might to put all their energy into the lumpen "Let's Get Retarded" as a finale, the high point was still "Where Is The Love?", which after all this time still provoked a communal singalong and a smile that stretched across the auditorium. They may lack the gravitas to take the place of the self-important Fugees, but they know how to throw a party.

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