Common/ N*E*R*D
Friday, Oct. 3
Reynolds Coliseum

Plain and simple, a pep rally should be full of revelry. So, while 2007’s Pack Howl pep rally and concertfeaturing acoustic acts Guster, The Avett Brothers and Brett Dennenwas mostly a success, it wasn’t exactly a party. The Avetts had the whole arena out of their seats by the end of the set. But sandwiched between Guster and Dennen, part of a Crocs-sponsored college tour, they were but the peak between boring lulls.

N.C. State again tapped a package tour last Friday for its 2008 Pack Howl. Co-headlined by alternative hip-hop acts Common and N*E*R*D, the Seeing the Invincible Sounds of Summer Tour attracted a smaller crowd than last year’s show (about half as big as last year’s 4,000), but the combined energy of the night’s MCs and their respective live bands had Reynolds rowdy again.

Known for its blend of hip-hop and rock, opener N*E*R*D clearly stole the show. With a quintet of keys, guitar, bass and dual drum kits bringing the songs alive, Pharrell Williams, Shae Haley and a third MC (Chad Hugo was conspicuously missing) blasted through a set heavy of singles from its three albums, including Seeing Sounds, released this summer.

The fuzzed-out riff of “Anti-Matter” kicked off the set with a bang, Williams dancing and prancing across the stage to the co-ed screams. Williams pandered to the audience by asking it “the name of the hottest college on this planet.” He encouraged everyone to take their education seriously before launching into the aptly titled “Brain” from In Search Of… before returning to Seeing Sounds for “Kill Joy” and its go-go breakbeat. The floor moved as the students and band fed off of one another’s energy.

In its only misstep of the night, N*E*R*D moved into slower territory. By then, the crowd was a bit too amped for the brakes. At least the incendiary guitar solos (straight from Captain Kirk’s playbook) of “Maybe” and “Sooner or Later” and a quick-moving medley between the two were enough to keep the show from grinding to a standstill.

Wisely moving back to its more up-tempo material (and a string of singles), N*E*R*D had the people bouncing again with the R&B groove of “You Know What” and stuttering rock anthems “Rock Star” and “Spaz.” Several male fans climbed to the stage to help N*E*R*D hype the crowd for the latter. “Lapdance” saw Williams lead the crowd in an “N.C. State” chant, surprisingly holding off until “She Wants To Move” to bring a slew of young ladies onstage. In short, N*E*R*D not only made its set a celebration, but added several personal moments that allowed it to connect with the audience. Whether it was Haley shouting out to three brothers of Omega Psi Phi who stepped through the crowd or Williams draping himself across the “sexy ladies making straight A’s” who surrounded him, N*E*R*D worked the big room.

Common’s subsequent set wasn’t a letdown, though his elaborate stage show (complete with an 8-foot-long L-shaped bar) and interludes required a high investment that didn’t keep the show in motion. That did little, however, to phase the female-packed front row. Common previewed much of his forthcoming album, which is full of Neptunes production. Despite being backstage (ostensibly), Williams didn’t appear for his verses on “Announcement,” “Universal Mind Control” or “Gladiator.”

That material went over well, but the crowd was clearly more familiar with “Testify,” “The Corner” and “Go!”, singles from 2006’s Grammy-nominated, gold-selling Be. An attempt at crowd participation on the title track didn’t really work, though, as the intro was rushed and the mass of vocals were not loud enough to rise above the synthesizers they imitated. Quick hits at two classicsLike Water for Chocolate single “The Light” and Kanye/Kweli collab “Get ‘Em High”were the biggest sing-alongs of the night for Common. Along with freestyles referencing his university host, they helped Common showcase his ability to hold the crowd in the palm of his handthat is, when his own poor acting wasn’t bogging him down.