For nearly two hours at KeyArena Tuesday night the cartoonish band known as Gorillaz delivered a sensory spectacle so enjoyable it was impossible not to walk away wanting more when the show ended. The concert marked the group’s final U.S. stop on its Escape From Plastic Beach tour and the nearly 10,000 on hand at KeyArena were treated to a set list featuring more than 20 choice cuts from the Gorillaz catalog including a health dose of material from Plastic Beach, easily one of the best records of the year.
The journey began with “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach,” during which a video of Snoop Dogg was played on the video screen that served as a backdrop for the dozens of musicians that filled the stage. Colorful videos featuring the Gorillaz virtual conterparts 2-D, Murdoch, Noodles and Russel were shown throughout the show immersing fans in the nefarious rockstar universe of Gorillaz. During some songs the band’s music videos were played and the cartoons perfectly sang in sync with lead Gorilla Damon Albarn, formerly of Blur, and during others concertgoers were treated to original animations by Jamie Hewlett (the other main creative force behind Gorillaz) made specifically for the tour. The paring of cartoons with arena rock worked so well it makes you wonder why nobody else has previously attempted the combination. I guess all it took was a little bit of British ingenuity to shake up the worn-out formula for a successful stadium rock show.
Although the Doggfather wasn’t there to deliver his cameo, several other delightful in-person appearances by friends of the Gorillaz made the show almost an all-star concert. The soulful Bobby Womack superbly sang his parts on “Stylo” and “Cloud of Unknowing,” the adorable Little Dragon popped in for “Empire Ants” and “To Binge” and De La Soul made “Superfast Jellyfish” and “Feel Good Inc.” two of the highlights of the show. But the highlights weren’t all cameos, if those guest appearance can even be considered cameos since all the performers had recorded with Gorillaz. “Rhinestone Eyes” and “Punk,” which is perhaps the most Blurish Gorillaz song, also stood out during the set.
As for Albarn, he was about as animated as artist Hewlett’s characters. He was a real treat to watch as he ran around the stage, smiling all the while, hopping between his seat at a piano to the front of the stage to sing lead. When he wasn’t singing he was either standing side stage watching with delight or playfully posturing and posing with the other musicians on stage. It was clear he was the grand orchestrator and that he was highly pleased with how well his master plan of taking a cartoon band on tour worked. Near the end of the night he thanked local ink shop Slave to the Needle for its tattoos and earlier in the evening he shook hands with fans and accepted a rose from a young girl. His energy and enthusiasm practically gave the massive rock show a genuine and intimate feeling.
Oh, and about that massive rock show. The video screen and conceptual cartoon universe helped give the show its grand scope but what really gave the concert feel its massive feel was the ridiculous number of people on stage at any given time. Performing in front of giant light-up letters that spelled out “Gorillaz” the constant band members included a seven-piece, all-female string section dressed in nautical outfits, Albarn, four backup singers, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of the Clash (who were almost as fun to watch as Albarn), two drummers and about four or five other musicians filling various roles from percussionist to keyboardist. And those were just the permanent players on stage. There was also an eight-piece brass section and a six-piece Arab-American string section that performed with the band and of course the numerous cameos. At one point I counted 28 people on stage and I’m sure there were at least 40 or more total musicians in the Gorillaz crew. I can only imagine how large the catering spread must’ve been backstage to accommodate such a large squad of performers.
Openers N.E.R.D. delivered a mostly uneven set that included songs from its newest record Nothing, which was released Tuesday. People were still filing into their seats during most of the band’s set, which is the curse of the opening act at an arena show, but by the time Pharrell Williams and Co. broke out “Rock Star” and “Lap Dance” the crowd seemed to be riled up and ready for the delightful audio-visual spectacle that followed.by