There was no shortage of highlights at the second CBS Radio We Can Survive concert, which took place at the Hollywood Bowl on Oct. 24. Not only was the stage shared by Taylor Swift, Pharrell Williams, Gwen Stefani, Ariana Grande, and a handful of other heavyweight acts, there were fireworks and confetti, surprise guests, and a nonstop stream of hits.
Pharrell touched on the female-centric nature of the evening in his monologues throughout his set.
“We are here to celebrate women tonight and their survival,” he said mid-way through his opener “Come Get It Bae,” where the hat-clad artist was joined by his backup dancers, the Baes, and, later in the evening, Gwen Stefani—who Pharrell introduced as his sister and the queen, acting as her hype man throughout a particularly stomping rendition of her 2004 hit “Hollaback Girl.”
While stalling for her arrival, Pharrell spoke candidly about his grandmothers who lost both of their lives to cancer, the resilience of mankind, and how women are essential to the survival of the species. His preaching was balanced by a medley of his old hits—“Hot in Herre,” “I Just Wanna Love U (Give it 2 Me),” and “Pass the Courvoisier”—as well as “Frontin,’” “Beautiful,” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” and G I R L tracks “Marilyn Monroe,” “It Girl,” “Blurred Lines,” “Get Lucky,” “Gust of Wind,” and “Happy”—whose optimistic lyrics especially resonated given the theme of the evening.
When he closed with his Oscar-nominated song, his powerhouse set culminated with a rainbow-lighted dance party on stage where Pharrell was joined by three young girls and a bright stream of fireworks. Midway through his performance, you almost didn’t think he’d make it to the end without getting emotionally overwhelmed. The crowd’s reaction—or “energy,” as Pharrell identified himself as a firm believer in that—nearly moved him to tears after he took them “down memory lane” with classic Skater P tracks. “Before you make me cry, let me finish the show,” he told the audience, taking a moment to collect himself as the applause rolled in.
Pharrell wasn’t the only artist to get worked up over their reception. A few slots before him, Taylor Swift got personal with her audience as she revealed this set marked her first time performing at the Bowl. After giving a pep talk about how music is an escape from the drudgeries of everyday life—frenemies, people talking behind your back, and the problems of work and school—the country-gone-pop-singer closed with her lead 1989 single “Shake It Off.” Earlier in the evening, Swift performed another track from her upcoming album—which she mistakenly said was out in two days (instead of three)—“Out of the Woods,” co-penned by Bleachers and .fun’s Jack Antonoff. She also treated the crowd to her older hits “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “Trouble,” which she asked the audience to sing loud enough to reach Sunset Boulevard. With its overdrive instrumentals—especially the horn section—it very well could have. Swift’s performance added a cohesion to the genre-spanning evening, which featured artists of every background, from country to R&B.
While Swift didn’t have time to play her new single “Welcome to New York,” a very pregnant Alicia Keys provided the crowd with an ode to the city. The piano balladeer walked onto the stage singing the opening of “Empire State of Mind” and then sat down at her piano where she also delivered her “We Are the World” kind of song, “We Are Here,” from her upcoming album planned for next year, and “No One.”
Lady Antebellum followed up Iggy Azalea and Jennifer Lopez: a tough order for any act, let one so sonically different. But the potentially jolting transition worked in their favor. It was a refreshing sidestep from the rest of the more pop-centric acts. The country-glam act performed their greatest hits and a few new tunes: their opener “Bartender,” where Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley’s vocals were filled out by electric guitar wails, their first No. 1 single on country radio, “I Run to You,” the Blondie-referencing “Downtown,” “Freestyle, from their recently released album 747, “Just a Kiss,” “Things People Say,” and their biggest hit to date, “Need You Now,” the title track from their 2010 full-length.