Black Eyed Peas review – pop air-punchers revisit conscious hip-hop roots

Hammersmith Apollo, London
Led by Will.i.am and with surprise guest Nicole Scherzinger, a more subdued Peas swap visual dazzlement for 90s-inspired beats

Last time the Black Eyed Peas played London, in 2010, they could barely move for props and effects. A motorcycle zipped overhead, costumes bristled with end-of-the-world hardware, fans’ real-time BlackBerry messages were displayed on a screen. This time? Not so much. It’s not quite Austerity Peas at this tour-opening show, but it is a visually subdued set, inasmuch as this group ever do things by halves. There is little in the way of dazzlement, apart from several moments when fans who had downloaded an app point their phones at the stage to see bursts of hearts and pyramids.

The reason for the downsizing can be inferred from frontman Will.i.am’s mid-set address to the audience. Since the departure of singer Fergie last year, the group have reverted to the original rap-based trio of himself, Taboo and Apl.de.ap, and rediscovered their conscious hip-hop origins. Shaken by Ferguson and Donald Trump, they resumed releasing new music last January, after a gap of seven years. The urgency of tracks such as Ring the Alarm and Constant – both played tonight – has inspired waggish nicknames like De La Peas. Will makes no apology. “If you like boom-bap hip-hop, pick up the new album [Masters of the Sun, Vol 1],” he advises. “If you like I Gotta Feeling, pick up The E.N.D.” Their 2009 LP sold 11m copies.

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