Nelly tries a little bit of everything

June 13, 2007


Raised by Portuguese parents in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, 28-year-old singer Nelly Furtado still hasn't decided what she really wants to be when she grows up, or which cultures and sounds she wants to embrace.

On her first two albums, Furtado was a granola-munching pop-folkie gently flirting with worldbeat while strumming in the coffeehouse. But on last year's Timbaland-produced "Loose," she reinvented herself as a hot-to-trot hip-hop vamp and electronic dance diva.

Fronting a seven-piece band, flanked by a quartet of dancers, decorating the stage like a Miami nightclub and performing under a giant sparkling disco ball, Furtado tried a little of everything in an effort to please everyone at the Rosemont Theatre Tuesday night. But she wasn't particularly convincing with most of it.

Through several costume changes, from a sassy mini-dress to an elegant evening gown, the artist invariably looked awkward and uncomfortable. And her singing was just as stiff, with the limitations of her narrow range and unimaginative phrasing obvious a few songs into the 16-tune set.

Especially disappointing were the bombastic ballad "Showtime"; a misguided attempt to remake and rev up her 2000 breakthrough hit, "I'm Like a Bird"; the late-era Madonna ripoff "All Good Things (Come to an End)" and unnecessary, uninspired covers of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and Justin Timberlake's "Sexy Back," delivered by the band while Nelly went to change outfits (again).

Furtado was at her best when she sang in Spanish, which the crowd also loved, and when she delivered her recent smash "Promiscuous," which featured the night's opening act, inventive multi-instrumentalist Saukratese, filling Timbaland's role on the record.

The enlightened feminist in me is still appalled by the retrogressive lyrics, but the pop fan in me -- and millions of others -- can't resist those hooks.

Sandwiched between Saukratese and Furtado as the second opening act was Ethiopian-born, Virginia Beach-raised Kenna (Zemedkun), who fronted a generic quintet that brought to mind the New Wave prom band in a bad knockoff of an '80s John Hughes teen flick.