"It is extremely hot," said Cee-Lo Green from the stage of the Filmore at Irving Plaza in New York City last night. He wasn't kidding. Show-goers who stumbled from the main floor into the hallway in search of precious fresh air looked like they'd just stepped out of a swimming pool — hair matted, clothes soaked straight through.
The occasion was the 150th MySpace Secret Show, an event that — bizarrely — paired Green's band Gnarls Barkley with brutal New York math rock outfit Battles. Like all MySpace Secret Shows, there was no way to purchase tickets for the event. Interested parties had to add the Secret Show profile to their MySpace "Top 8" in order to receive instructions on where and when to pick up the wristbands that gained them complimentary admission to the show.
"I want to give these kids memories," explained MySpace music editor Isac Walter. "These shows are designed for me, as a kid. If my favorite band was playing for free, in a venue like Irving Plaza instead of Madison Square Garden, fuck yeah, I'd stand in line."
By the looks of the crowd — capped, Walter said, at 1,050 — a lot of people shared his sentiment. The larger question was how two headliners so musically polarized would appeal to the sweltering crowd. "I honestly don't get it," laughed Battles fan Nadia Standard, 26. "The bands are from two different worlds. I'm curious to see how the 16-year-old Gnarls fans and the musichead Battles fans interact."
Seth Dukes, 22, felt differently. "I think it totally fits," he said. "Battles is 'out there,' Gnarls is 'out there.' Both bands are, musically, on the edge."
As it turned out, he was right. Though their initial squall of feedback may have disoriented some attendees, almost everyone was won over by the end of their manic set. Gnarls Barkley, needless to say, didn't have to work as hard. The group's hyperkinetic soul sailed, keeping the room full even as temperatures soared.
But the evening's best set belonged to neither Battles nor Barkley but late-addition show-opener Janelle Monae. Taking the stage in a trim tuxedo, black hair piled in a punky pompadour, she hiccuped, pouted, strutted and jerked her way through a set of bracing, revelatory songs that brazenly mashed-up new wave and R&B. Monae's rise has been meteoric: she recently attracted the attention of Sean "Diddy" Combs, who hastily signed her to his Bad Boy Records. How did Combs discover an up-and-coming R&B star who seems like a sure bet to be the second coming of Grace Jones? The answer is simple: on MySpace.