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Vegas in the E.R.

GNARLS BARKLEY

at Avalon, July 23

“If they come out in Ghostbusters outfits, I’m gonna take my shirt off and throw it at them.” The young man with the linebacker build scratched at his cottony goatee and added to no one in particular, “And my pants.”

Dense with anticipation, Sunday night’s Gnarls Barkley crowd was a thick soup of faux-tanned women in shimmery tank tops and expensive jeans, Hollywood male narcissists sporting sunglasses indoors, and O.C. college kids impatiently Sidekicking away an unholy eternity awaiting the arrival of the notoriously costumed 13-piece militia.

No Ghostbusters but hilarious regardless, Gnarls Barkley bounded onstage at last in blue hospital scrubs, creepy surgeon’s masks and ass-skimming nurse’s uniforms. As the veritable pop orchestra, including a string quartet and three backup singers, revved an instrumental version of Motley Crue’s “Dr. Feelgood,” Danger Mouse, in gold-rimmed aviators, a soft halo of hair and a lab coat, ascended his keyboard platform amid hoots and whoops from the crowd. The giddy din turned deafening as the rotund and robust chief of staff, a surgically uniformed Cee-Lo, took center stage and launched into “Go Go Gadget Gospel,” the high-energy opener off Gnarls’ debut album, St. Elsewhere.

An extroverted Penn to Danger Mouse’s tightlipped Teller, Cee-Lo exuded a brand of charm known to peel pants off the masses, his crisp, crooning falsetto skipping from sunny in “Smiley Faces” to chilling in the suicide-themed “Just a Thought.” The manic set clung closely to the album, with the exception of the obscure Doors track “Who Scared You” — “We don’t give a damn what you think about it!” chuckled Cee-Lo.

Obviously he does care. With a truly notable anthem (the catchy “Crazy,” saved for last) straining against the expectations of hype, Gnarls Barkley worked hard to keep the audience watching. Their shameless theatrics played like a Vegas production, just the right degree of camp adding body to the less-hooky songs. Stomping, swaying, crooning and sweating through their costumes, they put out more effort than some bands do on a full tour. We were captivated, even if our shirts stayed on.

—Alie Ward


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