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Pharrell Williams & Jungle - iTunes Festival @ The Roundhouse, London 10/09/14

12 September 2014, 10:31 | Written by John Bell

Jungle and Pharrell Williams are like the coolest kids in school. There’s the former, the mysterious new kids on the block, who despite their relative young age have been turning heads for the last year with their bomber jackets and disco-groove strut. And then of course there’s Pharrell, the undisputed king of cool with his Vivienne Westwood buffalo crown, who’s dipped in and out of groups lending his voice, production talents and more with a chic execution for the past twenty-odd years; two decades hidden by his Dorian Gray-like agelessness - really, the man turned forty-one in April. Kudos, then, to the curator of tonight’s installment of the iTunes Festival at the Roundhouse, who concords these stalwarts of groove.

​Jungle (pictured above) no longer rely on their anonymity, but instead on the reaction to their acclaimed self-titled debut, which was this week revealed to be on the shortlist for the Barclaycard Mercury Prize. Their set consists of these album tracks, all with a similar motif that has lead some to call it repetitive - coke bottle chimes, or missing the first bar of what seems like every other beat and instead dropping into the second as if by surprise - but if they are similar then they are similarly superb. With the golden strobe beams circling the domed roof of the Roundhouse and a huge, sparkling LED backdrop of their name, their performance of tracks like “Time” seem to positively glisten. As the hook of their closing track “Busy Earnin’” asserts, we really can’t get enough.

With their commandeering falsettos and off-beat grooves, they’re clearly an apt opener for Pharrell, who attracted most, it seems, to apply for the luck-of-the-draw competition that makes up the iTunes festival. But after a 30 second countdown, his entrance seems somewhat anti-climatic and doesn’t resume Jungle’s energy; opening on “Lose Yourself to Dance”, the less saturated, other collaboration with Nile Rodgers and Daft Punk from the latter’s Random Access Memories is a pleasing surprise, but the star seems a little distant. Sure, his voice is on point and his dancers certainly keep tracks like “Come Get It Bae” and “Hunter” from the recent release G I R L alive and novel, but it feels like he needs a little thawing. Maybe he’s just taking it all in, for he’s an artist that is very vocal about his appreciation for his fans, not least tonight: “there can only be one Marilyn, and there is only one you…”. Indeed, Marilyn Monroe has a new energy that seems to lift the singer’s spirits exponentially, no doubt aided by the addition of his old friend Shay Haley for some N*E*R*D throwbacks like “Rockstar”.

Whilst the man may be expressively loving of his fans, tonight he also vocalises his appreciation for the institution responsible for the evening (and filming the event live for all the world to see): “We’re celebrating Apple tonight whether you like it or not”. It’s a true statement, but his spiel unfortunately verges at times on obvious product placement: “What? Don’t act like it’s not the best phone?!” There’s a “cringe-and-forget-that-just-happened” moment and thankfully the familiar vocals of “Get Lucky” kick in soon enough for us to do just that. We do want to love Pharrell. He carries a good sentiment - spreading love, not fear - which in today’s world, where spreading anything is becoming increasingly easier, is important. Okay, none of us are really sure what he was thinking getting mixed up with Robin Thicke, and yes, his performance of “Blurred Lines” tonight sat awkwardly given his confessed love for “girls”. But as his set spans through his career highlights and ends on the most downloaded track of all time in the UK, “Happy”, it’s incredibly difficult to feel anything but warmth towards the artist, who, as the confetti now explodes across his stage, is in his zenith.

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