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- The O2 Arena, London »
There was a moment during this Gorillaz set when Damon Albarn vocalised the reality of how ambitious a project the one-time cartoon band have become. From the get go the idea was radical; blurring the line between image and music in an entirely original way, but even given the restless creativity of Albarn and Jamie Hewlitt, it's pretty amazing how far Gorillaz have grown since Demon Days was released.
Damon spoke of the logistics involved in making sure everyone involved in the shows turned up in the right part of the world each night, a point underlined by the fact that Maseo from De La Soul arrived almost at the end of the show having taken a later flight from Amsterdam than the rest of the crew. He tempered this thought by mentioning the extraordinary things that can be achieved when a group of such talented people come together, and that is in essence is what Gorillaz have become; a vehicle to drive towards the extraordinary. Damon is quickly becoming for pop music what Miles Davis was to jazz, drawing the heroes of every genre to his creative vision like the most awesome magnet ever invented.
The size of this vision is emphasised by the roll call of guests assembled for the second O2 date of the band’s world tour: Booty Brown, De La Soul, Bashy, Kano, Bobby Womack, Little Dragon, Neneh Cherry, Mark E Smith, The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabian Music all graced the stage at one time or another during the evening. Not to mention the fact the half of The Clash were in the band. Perhaps after the tour ends Damon might consider advising Roberto Mancini on the finer points of squad rotation…
The set focuses around third album Plastic Beach, but the hits from Demon Days and Gorillaz also make an appearance. The older material like ’19-2000’, ‘Clint Eastwood’ and ‘Punk’ still sound great, the simpler visuals and collaborative arrangements again point to just how much ground has been broken by the Plastic Beach material. The highlight of the new songs comes with the duets between Damon and Little Dragon on ‘Empire Ants’ and ‘To Binge’. To my mind, the chemistry between their vocals was one of the best parts of Plastic Beach and it burns even brighter on stage, especially during ‘To Binge’, with Damon and LD ending the song on their knees embracing. Mark E Smith is characteristically truculent (and awesome) for ‘Glitter Freeze’, marching on to the stage and pushing Damon, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon around, literally.
Bashy and Kano bounce around the stage hyperactively during ‘White Flag’, which was kicked off with a solo from the Syrian National Orchestra and a video of a Sufi twirling in the background, definitely the second coolest use of a Sufi in music this year (after Gonjasufi’s A Sufi And A Killer). Booty Brown deputises ably for Mos Def on ‘Stylo’, and Bobby Womack then tops his rap with a vocal so powerful it could break buildings. In between all the star turns Damon is both the conductor and mainstay of the group, jumping from introducing Womack and De La Soul to playing keys or melodica to rugby tackling Bashy at the end of his rap on ‘White Flag’.
Like the true showman he is, Damon leaves two of the show's best moments for the encore. Bobby Womack was first up to sing ‘Cloud of Unkowing’, alone on stage apart from the orchestra and keyboard player, and accompanied by video footage of the bombing on Pearl Harbor. This was an abrupt right turn from the darkly humorous Jamie Hewlett visuals that had been on screen for the rest of the gig, and it leant the track a stark dimension not present on its recorded version.
For all the brilliance of the new songs, it is one of Gorillaz’ early hits and crowd favourite, ‘Clint Eastwood’, which serves as the highlight of the gig. It’s four songs into the encore when that spaghetti Western melodica starts up, menacing as ever, and it's great, but no-one is expecting any more surprises. And then, totally unannounced, a rapper who hasn’t been on stage before appears to do Del Tha Funky Homosapien’s verse from the original. At first I can’t place the voice, thinking it might be Lord Finesse because it sounds like someone I know I love… then the mystery rapper turns round to give me a glimpse of his mask; it’s only MF FUCKING DOOM!!! I didn’t think anyone could top Snoop Dog’s freestyle during ‘Clint Eastwood’ at Glastonbury, but Metalface just about managed it.
Tonight’s gig, like Plastic Beach, proves that the moment when you think you have Gorillaz figured out will be the moment Damon raises the bar again.
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