It Wasn't a Concert! But N.E.R.D's Unexpected Listening Session at ComplexCon Was Still a Pleasant Surprise

by Brad Wete

 N.E.R.D's stage at ComplexCon 2017 | images c/o ComplexCon

N.E.R.D's stage at ComplexCon 2017 | images c/o ComplexCon

On Saturday night (Nov. 4), when progressive rock and Hip-Hop N.E.R.D band was set to have their first live performance to promote their self-titled forthcoming album, many long-time fans were excited to see them do just that: perform. Surprisingly (and to the dismay of many in attendance) they did not have a proper showing. There were no drums, guitars, or microphone stands out.

Instead, a flock of adidas-wearing dancers popped out to boogie on a stage that had been transformed into a somewhat barren land with candy-painted pick-up trucks, four-doors and such vehicles. When Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Shay Haley came out, they sat, perched on the roof of a mini-van and watched the show—similar to those who paid to see them. Surprisingly, what boomed from the Long Beach Convention Center’s speakers was N.E.R.D’s new album, No_One Ever Really Dies.


Plot twist: What was assumed to be a live show from the trio revealed itself to be a listening session for the their new album featuring choreography paired to the new tunes. To their credit, the dancers were awesome and the music was vibrant and banged in that unique way harmony and carnage somehow seem to unite on their best efforts. N.E.R.D. sounds urgent, with music for all moods to content that could soundtrack a house party or an unfortunate bit of news on CNN.


There’s a cut named “Don’t, Don’t Do It,” featuring Kendrick Lamar that speaks towards senseless killings of Blacks and the story of Keith Lamont Scott. There’s a trap, Go-Go infused track with Gucci Mane and Wale called "Voilà." There’s another with Future and even a song with Ed Sheeran. It’s difficult to have a proper or solid opinion on the entire album, because arena playbacks don’t allow for premium sound clarity. However, I do feel comfortable saying that the record sounds pretty damn good.

Still, save for Pharrell picking up the mic and rapping both he and Rihanna’s parts on No_One Ever Really Dies’ lead single “Lemon” (which he ran through three times at the end of the event), the band did not give the majority of the people what they anticipated.

I’m not one to tell artists how to present their work. As the proud parents of their content, it’s absolutely their choice. But I do think managing expectations is key in order to ensure the patrons to feel victim to the good ol' okie doke or bait and switch. Throughout the playback, as one song’s volume would die down and before another track picked up, attendees could be heard screaming things like, “Hey! Sing!.. Are you going to actually sing something?” at the crew. They likely wouldn’t have been yelling such things had they known in advance that Saturday was not a night we’d see N.E.R.D in their rock star glory. 

However, as far as listening sessions go, it was epic. Great music and raw, flamboyant dancing that felt both joyous and sullen at times. Their new effort doesn’t even have a proper release date yet. Meaning for a room filled with hypebeasts—people who covet things and experiences that are rare and exclusive in culture, what’s cooler than being able to say that you heard N.E.R.D’s new album well ahead of the rest of the world? Not much. 


“This was for you guys,” an orange-haired Pharrell said as he thanked the crowd for their support. “This album was for you guys. This night was for you guys.” Eventually, as he also mentioned, the album will be available for all ears via streaming services and be for sale through all traditional platforms. But for now, everyone at ComplexCon on the night of November 4 can say that they got something special, regardless of if it’s what they wanted or not.

The No_One Ever Really Dies  track list:

  1. "Deep Down Body Thirst"
  2. "Lemon" w/ Rihanna
  3. "Voilà" w/ Gucci Mane and Wale
  4. "1000" w/ Future
  5. "Don't Don't Do It" w/ Kendrick Lamar
  6. "Kites" w/ Kendrick Lamar and M.I.A.
  7. "ESP"
  8. "Lightning Fire Magic Prayer"
  9. "Rollinem 7’s" w/ André 3000
  10. "Lifting You" w/ Ed Sheeran
  11. “Secret Life of Tigers"

Written by Brad Wete
Photos c/o ComplexCon