Last Night: That rare breed, a hip-hop outfit who feel at home on the stage

Black Eyed Peas

Hammersmith Apollo

TWO YEARS ago, Los Angeles' most peaceful rappers were finally rewarded for their principled stand against hip-hop thuggery. Their musical prayer "Where Is The Love?" became the biggest-selling single of 2003, only thanks in part to Justin Timberlake's chorus.

Such success has cut little ice with ' record company, who postponed the follow-up to their breakthrough album Elephunk to concentrate on the sudden success of label mate The Game, this year's 50 Cent. It is only the latest setback for the group, in the wake of a studio fire last summer.

Their fourth album Monkey Business is now due for an April release. If any of this bothered the group's rapping trio and female vocalist, they refused to let on as they bounded on stage, a huge cheer reserved for the singer Fergie, who only joined for their breakthrough album.

For Monkey Business, the Peas could have headed down a R&B route. With the rappers swapping rhymes from the off, they were clearly sticking to their hip-hop roots. Their rhythms, though, were more propulsive than funky, veering from a bone-shaking four-four pulse to a frenetic dancehall pattern.

The Peas are that rare specimen, a hip-hop outfit that made their name on the live circuit, so apart from a perfunctory "say " at the start, this group had no need of the tedious call and responses beloved of the genre's biggest stars.

With his long dreds, Will.I.Am could have taken the role of spiritual leader. He was the earthiest performer.

Taboo, high cheekbones betraying his native American and Hispanic mix, was the smooth operator. Fergie had her say too, albeit as a more presentable Pink than a Lauryn Hill.

Much hip-hop fails on stage because backing tracks fall flat or musicians are brought in as an after-thought. The troupe last night were an integral part of the show, especially adept at recreating classic funk samples.

A blues shuffle was interrupted to allow Fergie a few bars of "Like A Virgin", though her cartwheel while singing was more memorable.

Will.I.Am promised the new album would feature a more raw sound than Elephunk. Certainly, new material slotted in well with the more robust tracks from that record. Pumping matched Dick Dale surf guitar with a ferocious backbeat.

For an encore Will.I.Am took over the drums for skits of Kelis' "Milkshake" and Snoop Dogg's "Drop It", even with the throat clicks, before the group reconvened for the main event.

"Where Is The Love?" set off a communal singalong and huge smiles across the auditorium. They may lack gravitas when they try to be serious, but the Peas still provide the liberal hymn sheet of choice.

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