Rarely do I leave a show completely overwhelmed. I have to tip my cap to everybody involved with the Gorillaz performance last night at NYC’s Apollo Theatre. This was a truly mind-blowing spectacle, offering just enough visual accompaniments to enhance the live show yet always leaving the musicians in the spotlight.
What I love most about Gorillaz is that “they” don’t conform to any of the normal rules of popular music. OK, so this is an animated band that blends in pop, rock, hip-hop and plenty of other influences into the mix. So when it came down to planning a live set, obviously frontman Damon Albarn was not going to make this a normal concert. He went all out, enlisting the help of a fourteen-piece string ensemble, an adult choir, a childrens choir, five backup singers, a top-notch full band, plus an all-star cast of supporting vocalists.
Starting from the very beginning moments as I walked up to the world famous Apollo Theatre, we were immediately immersed in the fantasy world of Gorillaz, with animation clips and artwork on the entrance as well as on the walls of the theatre lobby. After grabbing a drink with a few co-workers, I made my way to my seat in the mezzanine level. Mad props to Howard P at Virgin for the tickets, as the seats were perfect!
Rather than an opening act, a classic Looney Tunes cartoon featuring Daffy Duck as Robin Hood warmed up the crowd. It makes total sense to have a cartoon as the opener for an animated, fictional band. It was then time for the multi-media extravaganza called Demon Days Live to begin. Just as last night, we witnessed puppets of 2-D and Murdoc chatting in the balcony above the audience. Same perverted banter as on Sunday. This time round, we were treated to the rest of the visual experience, as the projector was fixed and ready to roll.
From the opening moments of “Last Living Souls”, Albarn and his large cast of musicians had already won me over. The mini-orchestra added so much depth to this song, perfectly balanced with the pounding bass line. I instantly got chills for the first time that night, and it wouldn’t be the last. Next up was “Kids With Guns”, during which Neneh Cherry sent the crowd wild with her guest vocals, wailing on the explosive conclusion to the song. Gorillaz as a live act really takes this album to a whole new level.
I actually felt a little concerned for my safety during “Dirty Harry”, as the mezzanine level began to bounce with the dancing of the audience. A childrens choir stepped onto the stage to perform the backing vocals, dancing along as Bootie Brown from Pharcyde blazed through the rap section of the song. Albarn cheered the kids choir along as they danced their hearts out. The puppets of 2-D and Murdoc reappeared to give the kids a thumbs up as well. I couldn’t help but grin… I mean, you’ve got Bootie Brown kicking ass, kids dancing, the crowd freaking out, it was a brilliant musical moment.
This was the perfect set-up for “Feel Good Inc.”, which sent the crowd wild. When De La Soul appeared on stage, the cheers from the audience were nearly deafening. De La had a blast on stage as Trugoy the Dove provided the song’s patented maniacal laughter. It really doesn’t get much better than this.
“El Manana” was one of my personal favorite songs of the night, allowing Albarn’s vocals to return to the spotlight. Seriously, I don’t think he has ever sounded better. As his vocals soared over the backdrop of the orchestra, the visuals of a burning windmill and random images of the Gorillaz characters were projected over the band. The combination of musical perfection and Jamie Hewlett’s stunning artwork was nearly sensory overload.
MF Doom made his “appearance” last night during “November Has Come”, as he was projected on the screen above the stage. Although he couldn’t make the show in person, the quick edits of his taped performance still made for a cool presentation. Roots Manuva and Martina Topley-Bird stepped on stage for a nice rendition for “All Alone”, leading us to the rocking “White Light.” Albarn got his rock on during this one, pounding the piano and thrashing the microphone around. Crunchy guitars, pounding drums and Albarn… what more do you need?
Ah yes, then there was “DARE” with Shaun Ryder! The man himself, dressed in baggy pants and a hoodie, complete with a lollypop, was just what I hoped for. Slightly smarmy, not quite all there, doing the baggy-pants dance, it was glorious! You couldn’t help but get your dance on.
For the grand finale of the primary set, we got a gospel-choir filled one-two punch of “Don’t Get Lost In Heaven” and “Demon Days.” As the choir got louder and louder, the screen projected the images of Gorillaz in stained glass. This was yet another spine chilling moment as this fantastic group of musicians ended the set on such a beautiful note.
The encore included a fantastic version of “Latin Simone”, featuring video footage of Cuban legend Ibrahim Ferrer recording the vocals for the song, which appeared on Gorillaz debut album. It was a perfect way to end the night, paying homage to the guest vocalist who passed away last year.
Although Albarn stayed towards the back of the stage, singing from his piano for most of the night, he did wander towards the front a few times. He was very appreciative of the audience, as well as of his amazing cast of performers and musicians. This was a night I will never forget, easily one of the greatest shows I have ever attended. The visuals were cool, the music was mind-blowing and Damon Albarn is still the man!
photos by Rahav Segev/Photopass.com