N*E*R*D Wins Shortlist Prize

The adventurous rock-centered hip-hop of N*E*R*D was awarded the Shortlist Prize for Artistic Achievement in Music last night (Oct. 29) at Los Angeles' Henry Fonda Theatre. The group, fronted by ubiqu

The adventurous rock-centered hip-hop of N*E*R*D was awarded the Shortlist Prize for Artistic Achievement in Music last night (Oct. 29) at Los Angeles' Henry Fonda Theatre. The group, fronted by ubiquitous producers the Neptunes, was recognized for its debut Virgin album, "In Search Of...." The act was one of three of the 10 finalists who performed at the second annual ceremony, and was upstaged only by a surprise appearance from Iggy Pop.

Under the moniker of the Neptunes, production duo Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams have worked with mainstream fare such as Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. But as N*E*R*D the two (with rapper Shay) crafted a genre-bending release that owes as much to 1970s soul and grunge-era rock as it does hip-hop and modern production. And on a night when art is supposed to take center stage -- considering only albums that have sold fewer than 500,000 copies at the time of nomination -- Williams didn't hide his retail frustrations, bragging that "In Search Of..." was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (for U.S. shipments of 500,000 units) "without the support of the leadership of Virgin Records."

It was a familiar theme, as DJ Shadow went out of his way to slam radio for failing to embrace his most recent critical hit, "The Private Press" (MCA). In an impressive 40-minute set, he reconstructed such should-be mega-hits as "Walkie Talkie" and "Six Days," the latter featuring beats that skittered like an out-of-control lie detector amid a foreboding vocal sample.

Yet it was punk forebear Iggy Pop who illustrated that even without radio play the mainstream is permanently indebted to the underground. Flanked by the clearly star-struck guitarists Pete Almqvist and Vigalante Carlstroem of the Hives, Pop tore through "I Wanna Be Your Dog," "No Fun," and "TV Eye" with trademark recklessness. Shirtless and wired, Pop contorted his body to match the venom in his vocals, stopping periodically to shove his crotch in the face of the audience.

For Pop, it clearly wasn't about reliving his days in the Stooges. Indeed, as Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE) perfectly steered a bass hellbent on wreaking havoc, the all-too-brief set swaggered like a victory lap, exulting Pop's transformation from outcast to "listmaker," the term applied to those drafted to determine the Shortlist winner. Adult pop singer Pete Yorn studiously kept the rhythm, but neither the MTV2 heartthrob nor the Hives could distract from Pop's show, who, after a perfunctory "see ya," slammed down the microphone and stalked offstage.

Otherwise, the night's performance emphasis was on hip-hop and dance, despite the fact that Shortlist finalists ran the gamut from Bjork to the Flaming Lips to the Doves. N*E*R*D, performing without Shay, who Williams said is serving out the remaining week of a jail sentence, was backed, as usual, by garage band SpyMob. Yet what the group lacks in tightness, it makes up for in sheer willingness to go wherever Hugo and Williams demand, be it the spirited funk attack of "Brain" or a chaotic performance of the all-out party anthem "Rock Star," augmented by rapper Mos Def.

Similarly, rapper Cee-Lo performed with an adept band that has a foot firmly grounded in the past, mainly the bedroom grooves of the late 1970s and early '80s. For flavor, Cee-Lo added a Southern bluntness to songs that changed direction without warning, or tossed in a Spanish-flavored horn solo to keep the audience guessing. He seemed just as comfortable playing the soul godfather as hardcore rapster, but not without a sense of humor, as he and his group quoted Spandau Ballet's "True," Macy Gray's "Do Something," and the theme from '70s sitcom "Taxi" during their set.

Last year's inaugural Shortlist prize went to Icelandic rock act Sigur Ros, which won $10,000 and had a matching amount donated to the Sept. 11 charity of its choice. For its prize, N*E*R*D was awarded $3,000 each from TowerRecords.com and Guitar Center.

The winner was selected by a group of 24 listmakers, including U2's Larry Mullen, Alanis Morissette, Beck, Jill Scott, filmmakers Baz Luhrmann and Spike Jonze, and journalist Greg Kot. For more information, visit the Shortlist Web site.