Twelve years ago Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett decided to create a cartoon band. The concept was to separate celebrity from pop music. This was the perfect vehicle for someone like Albarn, who is probably best known as the front man for Brit pop legends Blur. While Hewlett handled the animation Albarn would be able to create the music and save himself the headache of touring, press interviews, and the tabloids. And while the Gorillaz have performed one off shows here and there in the past it was usually with Albarn and company hidden on stage while Hewlett's cartoon creations 2-D, Murdoch, Noodle, and Russell took center stage.
But with the Escape to Plastic Beach Tour Albarn has decided to finally lift the veil he had before with Gorllaz and just put on a good old-fashioned rock show.
Ditching the cartoons for the real thing was actually a bit of a running joke throughout the show. Just before the show started a clip of the cartoon Gorillaz were shown backstage unable to get out of their dressing room.
To help out for this tour Albarn enlisted the help of some fellow musicians. The stage setup included a string sextet, Chicago's Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, the National Orchestra for Arabic Music, drummers, some keyboards, and one half of The Clash in guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon. In addition to the impressive band, regular Gorillaz collaborators like Bobby Womack, De La Soul, Bashy, and Little Dragon were along for the tour.
While the Gorillaz are currently on tour in support of Plastic Beach they managed to play a nice cross-section of songs from all of their previous efforts and even managed to perform for the first time ever an unreleased track. The sets opening track was "Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach" featuring Snoop Dogg on a large projection screen over the stage. Given that Snoop is scheduled to play the Arizona State Fair just a few days from now I had half hoped for a surprise appearance, but no such luck. The group followed that up with "Last Living Souls" off of their 2005 album Demon Days and "19-2000" off of their 2001 self-titled debut.
Really, the entire set played out like a best of album. And even though not everyone they worked with was able to make it to the show, Albarn managed to make some needed adjustments. For the song "Stylo" Bobby Womack made his first of several appearances and rapper Bootie Brown filled in for the missing Mos Def. Even Bruce Willis, who makes a pretty awesome cameo in the video for "Stylo" was seen overhead on the projection screen. For "Clint Eastwood" rappers Bashy and Kano filled in for Del The Funky Homosapien, though they did change the lyrics for their version.
Some highlights of the night included the song "Empire Ants," which is arguably the best song on Plastic Beach, thanks largely to the vocals of Little Dragon singer Yukimi Nagano. Other highlights included the club ready "Glitter Freeze" which got just about everyone in the audience dancing along and "Feel Good, Inc." which featured De La Soul.
While a lot of the highlights of the show included the guest performers it was pretty clear that the star of the show was Damon Albarn. He clearly demonstrated why he was such an awesome front man for Blur and why he needs to be front and center whether it's a Gorillaz show or a Blur show.
The term "epic" gets used pretty loosely these days, but if I had to describe last night's performance from the Gorillaz in one word it would have to be epic. From the moment the group took the stage just about everyone in Comerica Theatre was on their feet and two hours and twenty-three songs later nobody had sat down. What's more is that everyone wanted more. This was definitely the best show that I've seen all year.
Personal Bias: Long time fan of Gorillaz but also Damon Albarn's work with Blur. In highs school, I was the only one to ever take Blur over Oasis. Not to mention one half of The Clash were on stage. Really unbelievable how much talent was on stage last night.
The Crowd: Mainly white twenty-somethings and hipsters. Some audience members wore nautical hats and sailor caps to match the bands outfits on stage.
Overheard: Nothing all that interesting, although I did see someone wearing a Lakers jersey with the number 99 and the name Fletch on the back. That was pretty awesome.
Random Note Book Dump: Blur reunion tour please!
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"Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach"
"Last Living Souls"
"Super Fast Jellyfish"
"Tomorrow Comes Today"
"Cloud Of Unknowing"
"Feel Good, Inc."
"Don't Get Lost In Heaven"