Rare thing that it is, a Cee Lo Green show in St. Louis should be a party to wreck all parties. But location is everything, and occasion is a close second.
Last night's finale to Mirthday, the annual UMSL spring blowout, took place at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. To understate matters: The listless student audience took its time getting its mirth on. Cee Lo himself needed half a set to find the deranged funk, the playful drama and the unscripted silliness that makes the party worth starting at all.With a now notorious meltdown at Coachella days behind him - don't even think about cutting Green's set short - the singer took the stage at 8:30 p.m. sharp, surrounded by a four-piece, all-female band. The girls in gold cat-suits could play, especially his drummer, who kept the groove locked for the full 75 minute set, even when the mix was less than kind. "What's my motherfucking name?" Cee Lo demanded at the start; the room didn't seem to know the answer.
From the steady funk rock of "Bright Lights Bigger City" through the creepy murder fantasy "Bodies" into the horn-faked "I Want You" and the post-modernized Philly soul of "Satisfied," Cee Lo struggled against the Lady Killer material as the small but packed crowd on the floor at the foot of the stage stood painfully still, as though they'd bought tickets for a Bright Eyes show. The house lights kept coming up every ten minutes or so as if to check on illegal activities, but this crowd could barely be bothered to flash their cell phones on request. In the uppermost balcony seats, three girls danced all night while everyone else waited for "Fuck You."
But midway through the set, as the opening chords of "Crazy" filled the Touhill, the students got on their feet and moved a bit, even as the song grew more and more paranoid, with a kick drum channel turning into horrid pistol shots into a pillow. Cee Lo just plowed through the shitty mix, and then invited his Goodie Mob compadres to join him on stage. With over half a struggling set behind him, the leader finally seemed comfortable, stripping down to his shorts, as the four MCs passed two mics between them like batons, having a blast on stage, grinding against the road cases and ripping through "Cell Therapy" and "Soul Food" as the band took a break.
"Where's the after party?" Cee Lo called out. "We need some weed. Just kidding. I've got Ecstasy." By the way he sang all night, wild and joyous, with that signature high and soulful rasp, you might believe him. And as the band joined Green again for a couple of Gnarls Barkley favorites, "Smiley Faces" and the Violent Femmes cover "Gone Daddy Gone," the night finally felt like a party, with the whole room standing to flip the bird and sing along to inevitable set-closer "Fuck You," the most insidiously catchy and explicit single in his or any of his competitors' repertoires. Green downed a shot of tequila, tossed the cup and walked off. He came back for two final songs from Lady Killer: "It's OK" and "Cry Baby," an unexpected and welcome request. The room was with him and Mirthday Night, in the end, lived up to its name.