Gig review: Pharrell Williams at First Direct Arena, Leeds

Pharrell Williams
Pharrell Williams
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Pharrell Williams could be forgiven for coming over all triumphalist on his debut appearance at Leeds Arena.

Earlier in the day it was announced the singer, rapper and producer’s song Happy had surpassed the Will Young track Evergreen to become the best-selling UK single of this Millennium.

Yet the opening numbers of his set seem curiously understated. Freedom, the new song that’s been used to launch the new Apple Music streaming service, is accompanied by an artily shot monochrome video sequence but it doesn’t quite hit the spot – perhaps due to its unfamiliarity at this stage – nor does the standard issue R&B of Come Get It Bae, from his 2014 album G I R L.

The Prince-like, coiled-spring funk of Frontin’ is better but the party doesn’t really start until Williams and his six-strong posse of dancers start bounding around to a medley of Hot in Herre and I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me), from the hip-hop end of his back catalogue.

The energy levels shift up a gear when former bandmate Shay Hayley joins him for the old N*E*R*D* hits Rock Star and Lapdance and a dozen female invitees from the audience seem ecstatic to be sharing a stage with one of modern pop music’s coolest stars during She Wants To Move.

Williams graciously returns the compliment by sharing in group hugs and posing for selfies then urging love, respect and mutual support, noting: “Without women nobody in this room would here tonight.”

The real gems in the set however have been saved for late on. Lose Yourself To Dance – from Williams’ 2013 collaboration with Daft Punk – is a glorious slice of disco-funk while Williams’ hard-working backing singers and dancers get a chance to shine during Hollaback Girl, which The Neptunes produced for Gwen Stefani.

The greatest hits continue with Drop It Like It’s Hot, originally co-written with Snoop Dogg, and a verse and chorus from the Robin Thicke hit Blurred Lines.

“Everybody with a heartbeat in the building, I want you to sing this song with me,” Williams implores before Get Lucky and, sure enough, he gets his wish.

Inviting a gang of children onstage to dance to Happy in the encore is also a sure-fire winner – and Michael Jackson enthusiast Dylan Barraclough, aged seven from Pudsey, excels in his moment in the spotlight.

From the beam on his face at the end after a congratulatory high-five by Williams he’s not the only one going home happy tonight.

Gig date: June 12