Nelly Furtado, who played the Greek Theater Wednesday night, is at an intriguing crossroads: After the fizzy pop of her 2000 debut and relative commercial disappointment of the multicultural “Whoa, Nelly,” how does the Portuguese-Canadian singer build on the success of last-year’s Timbaland-produced hit, “Loose” (Geffen)?
The answer is to present her as a pop star with an exotic edge. The production includes all the usual accoutrements of a modern diva — multileveled set with a central stairway and a giant LED disco ball, dancers and multiple costume changes — but the most interesting music (and the moments when Furtado seemed to be the most engaged) occurred when the music went furthest afield, adding Latin rhythms or Portuguese lyrics, or moved from the radio to the club.
Performing the pop songs that dominated the early portion of the 90-minute show, Furtado almost seemed laminated. Wearing a body-hugging red dress (with the hemline demurely falling mid-thigh), her hair pulled back into a tight ponytail, she seemed distracted, not even interacting with the quartet of dancers that surrounded her. (You can’t quite blame her: The dancers were a distraction, throwing themselves around on the up-tempo numbers, grinding like horny teenagers for the ballads. Thankfully, they’re soon banished until the final third of the show.)
This poppier material doesn’t really play into Furtado’s strengths. Her voice can get all chirpy on the Madonna-styled “Say It Right” and turn reedy when asked to sustain notes on ballads such as “In God’s Hands.” An acoustic cover of “Crazy” was entertaining but a little dated. So many bands have done the Gnarls Barkely hit, it’s become a cliche. She’s much more comfortable letting loose on the Portuguese “No Hay Igual”; “Forca,” the pumping track she wrote for the Euro 2004 soccer tournament; and “Give It to Me,” her contribution to Timbaland’s solo album. The energy she brought to those songs remained for the rest of the evening, including the hit “Promiscuous,” with percussionist Saukrates (who opened the evening) filling in for Timbaland.
The evening ended on a rousing note. Furtado seems to have a good grasp of her talents and is going to be a force to be reckoned with for quite some time.