Gorillaz at Gibson Amphitheater, October 27, 2010
Photo: Damon hugging Lou. Full set by Sung here.
Gorillaz is one high concept stacked on another—take an animated group of humanized simians as the faces of the band; put behind them a unique mash up of rap, pop, dub, classical, electro, hip-hop and more, all played with a patchwork of samples, electric, acoustic and classical instruments; fly in numerous luminaries from across the pop music spectrum as guest performers; oh, and for the live show, bring on board 50% of The Clash as main players. But instead of toppling under the weight of the ambition of it all, the whole thing holds together and works, and now, well into their second decade, it is soaring high.
Live, on stage at the Gibson Wednesday night, the proceedings have a feeling of celebration, almost as if the hard work has already been done in the recordings and artwork; the live performance is the afterparty. (A pirate themed party, of course—lots of pirate regalia in the crowd.) Even something as mundane as the merch stand has an extra bit of buzz about them with the various offerings of Gorillaz ephemera.
On stage, main man Damon Albarn is less musical conductor than mad scientist, hopping from keys to acoustic guitar to melodica to fuzzed-out CB radio mic. He’s just about delirious with glee, at one point telling us with typical irony, “I’m not having any fun up here at all,” with a wide grin telling us the opposite. Guessing he’s 40-something but he hasn’t lost a bit of spring in his step since the halcyon days of Blur; heck, he might have even picked up a few inches on his vertical (perhaps a result of being freed from the stresses of that band).
Mick Jones and Paul Simonon only need to appear to have won me over; that they wear captain’s hats and actually play on nearly every song is bonus–Mick is on rhythm guitar throughout and Paul’s dubby lines holding down the low end. Lou Reed’s rare appearance for “Some Kind of Nature” was a nice touch even if it wasn’t his best performance (the voice seemed a bit off, even for him; he missed his cue for his 2nd verse). But he did hit us with a nice bit of electric guitar crunch before exiting though. A truly special rock moment came with his exit off stage, as he hugged Mick Jones in the shadows. Not everyday you see the Velvet Underground man hug a Clash man. Perhaps never to happen again. Of course it would have been great to have Snoop Dogg and Mos Def in the house (Pharcyde’s Bootie filling in ably for Mos on “Stylo”). But even without them the guest list is stacked, everyone bringing their A-game–Bobby Womack and De La Soul, of course, along with Bashy, Little Dragon, Miho Hatori and here, for the first time, Daley, an up and coming neo-soul singer from Manchester, to perform the new single “Doncamatic.”
At about two hours and 26 songs, it’s a massive production with upwards of a dozen bodies on the stage at any given moment, strings and horns and backing singers and a pair of drummers on headphone click tracks to keep the groove locked and–of course–synced video clips on screens, spanning the years of slight variation of Gorillaz animation, from the early thick line renderings to the current CGI incarnations made for this tour. While it is all very professional and tight, it all has soul and a ramshackle, renegade spirit beneath the sheen and that’s a big part of the appeal. With a genius like Albarn at the captain’s chair and all these ringers on the guest line up, it’s hard to view them as underdogs, but you tend think of this band that way. The sort of scrappy aesthetic of the cartoon band seems to extend to the people on the stage and you can’t help but want to pull for them. With a bag of tunes this great and a live performance that’s just flat-out fun, it’s easy to get on board.
Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach (with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble)
Last Living Souls
19/2000 (with Miho Hatori)
Stylo (with Bobby Womack)
On Melancholy Hill
Superfast Jellyfish (with De La Soul)
Tomorrow Comes Today
Empire Ants (with Little Dragon)
Some Kind of Nature (with Lou Reed)
Broken (with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble)
Dirty Harry (with Bootie Brown)
Doncamatic (All Played Out) (with Daley)
White Flag (with Bashy & Kano)
(with Little Dragon)
DARE (with Rosie Wilson)
Cloud of Unknowing (with Bobby Womack)
Feel Good Inc. (with De La Soul)
Clint Eastwood (with Bashy & Kano)
Don’t Get Lost In Heaven