Harlem's renowned Apollo Theatre became monkeys-ville last night, the opening of a six-day Gorillaz showcase featuring, not holograms, but the virtual group's actual members. The wait outside was surprisingly reasonable (25 mins) less than an hour before the show, considering that the line was a "U" wrapping the block. Projected on a screen across the street above the sign for "Lazarus" were animated scenarios, one most notably was Murdoc (mullet-hair usually with a cape) seated in nothing but a thong, cell phone strung through the back string, playing the piano against a tranquil backdrop among sheep and other little creatures. Once inside, we were told unfortunately that cameras were not allowed (argh).
The crowd was a balanced mixture between veteran industry types, hipsters, and families, scattered throughout the double side decks and two-tier balcony. With its maroon carpeting and antique interiors, the grand hall could have been a step out of The Shining, if not the stage for a hip-hop group of homo-sapiens. As I bypassed the bar's trailing line, a lady escorted me down the aisle to a central seat five-or-so rows from the front. The night was off to a positive start without sweating for a view, fighting second-hand smoke and regretting my unsupportive flats - finally, I was sitting.
As we all stared at the giant blank screen floating over ruby curtains, Damon Albarn emerged in jeans and a gray polo to inform us regretfully that the majority of the visuals would not be working despite last minute efforts. I knew I wanted to see the members in the flesh, but be careful what you wish for. Spotlight to the right balcony - life-size (and life-like) puppets of 2-D and Murdoc crept upward to present pre-show rambles with Murdoc digressing into an elaborate orgasmic recount of a flight attendant. Typical. The curtains rose to reveal a backdrop of colored screens (where the holograms may have appeared), a line of backup singers to stage righ, a pair of silhouette guitarists and an orchestra front-lining a row of violinists that opened with the bump-n-thump of "Last Living Souls."
Neneh Cherry soon accompanied on "Kids With Guns" - "Push it/Push it real." Center stage hosted an in/out stream of guest vocals throughout the night, including among others, Martina Topley-Bird with Bootie Brown of Pharcyde and Happy Mondays' Shaun Ryder. The show also featured children of the San Fernandez Youth Chorus synchronously shaking to "Dirty Harry." De La Soul appeared on "Feel Good Inc." with Trugoy the Dove continuously (and hilariously) yelling "Ha!" throughout the song - chuckles resonated in my area. An older choir emerged for the head-banging tour of "White Light" as the screen pulsated clear flashes to the graceful break of a rainbow spotlight, the clarity of which was astounding. "Every Planet We Reach Is Dead" featured Ike Turner amicably on piano, initially unrecognizable and decked in a pink/white comic-patterned suit with sequins.
Towards the end, the curtain lowered and 2-D and Murdoc emerged yet again, raising and lowering their hands as soundboards to humor the applause. In introducing the final act, the puppets disappeared and the curtains rose for a performance by Gorillaz royalty himself - Albarn, accompanied by Chinese zither player, Zeng Zhen, to sing "Hong Kong." Zhen, dressed in a rose yellow collared-fitted ensemble, delicately plucked throughout, hitting higher finalizing pitches as Albarn eventually exited the stage. A woman behind me said to her friend, "Oh, she's so good." Without holo-graphics to highlight the stage, the show certainly could have been better. Nonetheless, Gorillaz Albarn and company put on an entertaining performance, but I hope they get the visuals working for the rest of their shows this week.
photos by Rahav Segev/Photopass.com