Woe, Nelly: Furtado fails to set Vancouver alight
Nelly Furtado played the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver on Jan. 9, 2013. (Anil Sharma/CTV)
Published Thursday, January 10, 2013 9:20AM PST
Last Updated Thursday, January 10, 2013 1:17PM PST
Poor Nelly Furtado. The fickle hand of pop celebrity fate has given her the thumbs down.
She may own two Grammys and (at the last count) ten Junos, but in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of pop, for an artist of her alleged magnitude, last night’s half-full Commodore Ballroom removed any fading doubt that her time on the Canadian music A-list is over.
Which is a shame. Because as the few Vancouverites who dug into their pockets for the Furtado Fest would attest, there’s still a lot to like about B.C.’s biggest pre-Jepsen pop export. She looks fantastic. She’s a fine singer – not in the Whitney/Aretha class, of course, but note-perfect throughout. And unlike many pop starlets, she’s an accomplished musician. So how did this near-superstar slip to the point where she’s not even close to selling out one of Vancouver’s mid-size music venues?
On the nowhere-to-hide, crape-draped stage of the Commodore Ballroom, the answers emerged.
The opening salvo of cheesy worldbeat “Spirit Indestructible,” disco-flavoured “Waiting For The Night” and urban jam “Say It Right” set Nelly’s stall for the night, the singer accompanying her vocals with the sort of histrionic hand gestures that are the accepted norm on The X Factor but look slightly ridiculous in front of a real (and small) crowd.
She strapped on a Les Paul for the chirpy pop of “Do It”, gracefully deflecting the spotlight from poodle-haired lead guitarist Sean Kelly, who seemed to be labouring under the misapprehension that he was playing with Whitesnake. Furtado went on to introduce support act Dylan Murray for dreary country duet “Be OK,” before switching into lounge jazz mode, turning the stale bossanova of “Quando Quando Quando” into an uncomfortable cover of Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On.” Things went from weird to weirder, as her six-piece band hit their collective distortion pedals, recreating mega-hit “Turn Off The Light” as a Linkin Parkesque nu metal track. Oddly, this suited Nelly’s voice rather well.
And so it continued, hopping from genre to genre, the star strapping on acoustic guitars and ukuleles, rapping her way through “Big Hoops”, going EDM for “Promiscuous Girl” and finding the time to throw in covers of Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle” and Madonna’s “Like A Prayer”.
The overall effect was the musical equivalent of a buffet table swamped with a mixture of global cuisines. Tasty when sampled dish-by-dish, but confusing and unappetising when taken as a whole.
Which pretty much sums up where Nelly Furtado has gone off track. She has the ability do it all. She just needs to decide on what musical direction she wants to take. An energy-sapping and pointless break where she read out crowd members’ ‘Bucket List’ suggestions demonstrated that as a spontaneous performer, she simply lacks the charisma to pull off Madonna or Bowie’s chameleon act. By straddling every genre under the pop umbrella Furtado has found herself stranded in a demographic dead zone. She’s a diva without an audience.
It’s a pity, because with set and encore closers “Parking Lot” and “Maneater” she’s still armed with some of the most fun pop songs of the past decade. Whether anyone remembers them in five years time is another question entirely.