N.E.R.D. Brings ‘Lemon’ & Futuristic (Old) Hits to Raucous Governors Ball Set

Pharrell Williams has basked in pop’s spotlight for most of the past decade, but N.E.R.D. — the ambitious rap-rock hybrid he formed with Chad Hugo and Shay Haley at the end of the ’90s — has spent most of the 2010s out of the public eye. After releasing the eclectic No One Ever Really Dies LP at the end of last year, the trio had a new hit (the Rihanna-assisted “Lemon”) and new reason to return to the stage. Following only a handful of shows since the new album, N.E.R.D. stepped out at Randall’s Island Sunday evening (June 3) for a rare New York City show.

Williams and company had the charm turned up, in full-on entertaining mode. Williams and Haley worked the crowd like their own hype men, bouncing around the Honda Stage in giddy excitement and goading the sizable crowd to yell, sing, jump in unison — really anything besides stand arms-crossed like they were watching an ordinary rock band. Williams implored fans to form mosh pits at least four times, and the band’s rock-leaning offerings (“Brain,” “Spaz”) fit the groove perfectly.

As for the hip-hop side, Williams and Hugo dropped in bits of numerous Neptunes classics, revving the crowd with the likes of “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and “Grindin’.” And as for the old N.E.R.D. hits, songs like “She Wants to Move” and “Everyone Nose” were easy sells; when your 2000s singles sounded head-shakingly futuristic from the start, they tend to age pretty well.

It all ended with “Lemon.” Even with Rihanna only present through her recorded vocals, the trio’s 2017 hit got the crowd amped, launching it into one last shakedown. Well, actually two — right after it was over, the crowd begged for a “Lemon” encore and N.E.R.D. and its team of onstage dancers gladly obliged.

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