Gorillaz have always been to some extent, a band in exile. This may seem strange to describe a band as such when they just headlined Madison Square Garden; however, even when sharing the stage with entire brass and string sections, as well as a countless number of guests, you still had a difficult time keeping your focus on the musicians. This may have been due to the 40’ tall projection screen spewing 2 hours of animation from Jamie Hewlett, who along with Damon Albarn in 1998 helped create the Gorillaz.
Albarn already had being the front-man of one of the biggest (yet still somehow underappreciated) bands of the 90’s, Blur, on his credentials. In the Gorillaz, Albarn found the opportunity to create a veil around him in which he can explore other influences such as reggae, hip hop, funk, and electronic just to name a few. Having four animated band members was conceived by Albarn and Hewlett, who have been the only constant ‘real’ members of the band since it’s initial inception in 1998. The band’s first two albums – Gorillaz and Demon Days sold over 20 million copies worldwide, yet the Gorillaz rarely brought their show on the road.
With the Gorillaz most recent album, Plastic Beach, the band reached out even further into their eclectic influences calling upon guests such as varied as the Syrian National Orchestra, Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, and Lou Reed. What was one of the most anticipated albums of 2010, also brought about one of the most anticipated tours of 2010 – “The Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour.”
A three story projection of Snoop Dogg kicked off the show with, “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach,” and from the get-go you knew that this wasn’t going to be any typical concert experience. As the aforementioned full brass and string section graced the stage in addition to the other musicians (including Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of the Clash) who made up the core band for the Gorillaz. Even with over 20 musicians on the stage at points, it was hard taking your eyes off of the massive animated projections adorning the screen. At times the animations were synced to the vocals and instruments of the band while at other points, such as in “Last Living Souls,” the projections helped in creating a beautifully constructed narrative.
Albarn essentially stood as the ringmaster for the evening; bringing out several guests throughout the night, including the man behind the curtain – Jamie Hewlett. While there wasn’t much room for improvisation because of animations, a very layered and intricate sound was present the entire time due to the quality and quantity of the musicians on deck. Much of Plastic Beach was performed including “Some Kind of Nature”, which featured Lou Reed, and “Sweepstakes” which featured a highly energetic Mos Def in one of the highlights of the night.
It was some of the band’s earlier hits though that translated best to the large arena that MSG is. You couldn’t help but move to “DARE” and “Feel Good Inc,” two of the tracks most responsible for bringing the Gorillaz their world-wide success. Albarn is no stranger to seeing crowds respond in this kind of way, but you could still sense a great amount of energy and appreciation emanating from him. This was a lot more than just your typical concert – this was an elaborate multi-media performance, and a rare one at that.
Words & Photos from Jesse Zryb