“Do you know the history of this building?” Nelly Furtado asked her not-quite-sold-out New York audience at Midtown Manhattan’s the Town Hall. She was referring, of course, to a group of suffragists who fought for the right to vote and the resulting construction of a meeting hall in 1921 where such issues could be made public for open debate. The historical and cultural import of the locale was clearly not lost on the 25-year-old Portuguese-Canadian, who would go on to sing about being “fresh off the boat” and having her ethnicity airbrushed away on magazine covers. She took the stage just before nine o’clock, all glowing smiles, humble waves, and postpartum curves, and launched into “One-Trick Pony,” the opening track of her tragically overlooked sophomore slumper Folklore. As the song goes, the one-trick pony always steals the show, and while Nelly didn’t exactly do that, her small but obviously devoted fanbase was elated to be in her presence on this particular night, and Jasmine, Nelly’s slinky, hip-swiveling back-up singer, was clearly having the time of her whole damn life. Nelly hopped around the stage in a demure floral-print dress with her arms in the air, and with more energy than a kid, reaching for her fans’ outstretched and armbanded hands and, in a thoroughly Springsteen move, even bringing an overzealous girl onstage to dance (or, more accurately, jump up and down incessantly) while she sang. She was in fine voice too—or as fine as one can be with the music turned up loud enough for a stadium show. The night was divided into equal parts Whoa, Nelly!, her 2000 debut, and Folklore, the former offering the evening’s more energetic moments (“I Will Make U Cry” and “Baby Girl” bristled with new velocity and vitality, respectively) while the newer songs proved that Nelly should be considered anything but a one-trick pony—er, one-hit wonder (current single “Try,” a fan favorite even though it’s virtually being ignored by radio, drew cheers from the crowd as soon as the first faux heartbeats reverberated throughout the hall, while a live rendition of “Picture Perfect” sounded infinitely sharper and more accessible than the album version). Nelly’s set ended with an inspired medley of the old and new (”....On the Radio,” which segued into a fleshier version of “Saturdays”) and an encore of “Hey, Man!” and “Powerless (Do What You Want),” but the majestic ballad “Childhood Dreams” was sadly a no-show. (The song’s ambitious arrangement would have been ideal for the Town Hall’s impressive acoustics and giant organ pipes.) Perhaps simultaneously acknowledging and defying the seemingly arbitrary lull in her career, Nelly ended the night by promising to “keep making music for you.” Hopefully America will get a clue so she can do just that.
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