After three studio albums and over 10 years together, the Gorillaz have finally embarked on their first full-blown world tour. In support of this year’s stellar Plastic Beach, Damon Albarn & Co. took to the stage Wednesday night in Dallas for what was essentially an overload of visual and sonic imagery. For nearly two hours the group (and numerous guests) powered through a set composed of older hits and a ton of new material, and did so with more style and flair than most bands could ever dream of.
Openers N.E.R.D. really need no introduction, and did a fine job of warming up the crowd. Pharrell seemed happy to be singing live for the crowd, but at the same time their set ran a bit too long. They played something like 10 songs and eventually they all started to sound the same. Their new track Hypnotize U sounded great live, but really no one was at the venue for N.E.R.D. anyway. As their set came to a close, people started piling into the venue and soon enough it was time for the real show to start.
After a short series of introduction videos featuring the animated Gorillaz (and Snoop Dogg), Damon Albarn and Rosie Wilson waltzed onstage and delivered an incredibly poppy version of 19/2000 to life for the 3,500 in attendance. The band came to life onstage, with two drummers pounding out the track and Paul Simonon delivering a very un-Clashlike funk bassline. It was the perfect way to get the crowd happy and ready for the show.
Instead of continuing with that decisively poppy sound, Albarn shifted things into the synth-heavy Last Living Souls. As the band played on, Albarn ran around the stage, jumping on speakers and showing the crowd how grateful (and happy) he was to be there. The string section of the band really showcased the unique, staccato orchestral work that brought the song to life on the record and it translated incredibly well.
Stylo was up next, and Mr. Bobby Womack (and Bootie Brown) were both in attendance to make sure the song got the treatment it needed. Womack sounded great live, but looked like he was still trying to figure out how and why he got involved with the Gorillaz. Regardless, he seemed to be enjoying himself and controlled the crowd for the entirety of the track.
Two of Plastic Beach’s best tracks, On Melancholy Hill and Rhinestone Eyes were up next. Both made heavy use of the giant screen behind the band, playing a mixture of the original music videos and footage made just for the live show. Gorillaz co-creator Jamie Hewlett’s art style and direction is truly fantastic, and to watch it unfold while the band plays live is a really impressive sight to see.
De La Soul hit the stage next for Superfast Jellyfish which was received incredibly well by the crowd. The guys were clearly having a blast and the band sounded spot on. I’m glad that the band is having a lot of the featured guests go on tour with them instead of just featuring them in video segments, and clearly it’s working out well for the band.
Tomorrow Comes Today was up next, slowing things down while Albarn pulled out a bright red melodica to play the song’s signature hook. The track didn’t last long though, and soon segued into Empire Ants, complete with Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano on vocals.
The song is one of my favorites on Plastic Beach, and it’s dreamy opening sequence almost seemed to hypnotize the crowd. Surely and slowly it morphed into the bass heavy synthpop song that it is, and Ms. Nagano’s vocal performance demanded that the crowd listen. It’s a great song and sounded even better live. What more can you ask for?
Broken and Dirty Harry were up next, the latter being one of the big highlights of the evening. The screen showcased a bunch of animated children singing (and dancing) to the choir part in the song, and Bootie Brown controlled the crowd during his rap segment. The song’s bassline and drum work is irresistibly danceable and the crowd had no problem doing just that.
After fairly standard run throughs of El Manana, White Flag (complete with rappers Kano and Bashy) and To Binge (with Yukimi Nagano on lead vocals), the video for DARE started and the crowd immediately took to screaming the lyrics.
It’s one of the band’s most recognizable tracks and every single person in attendance seemed to be enjoying the track. Rosie Wilson came back out to sing lead vocals with Albarn but they were almost drowned out by the crowd’s singing. The synth and bass work powered through the air in the venue and I’m almost positive that even the people in the very back of the balcony had no problem feeling the bass in their chests.
Glitter Freeze was up next and while on the LP it’s not the best, it really came to life in a live setting and once again had everyone in the crowd dancing. It’s a weird, repetitive track but it works well live. It segued right into Punk, which came as a surprise as it hasn’t been played too many times on this tour and wasn’t on the setlist for the evening.
Albarn completely controlled the stage during Punk, running, jumping; Effectively he was stereotypically “rocking out.” The crowd ate it up and the song sounded way heavier live than on record. It’s a short one, but it was completely entertaining and I’m glad the band decided to throw it in at the last minute.
Plastic Beach closed the main set, and it’s droning vocal work and synth lines seemed to again hypnotize the crowd. As the band slowly started to exit the stage at the song’s climax, cries for an encore immediately began.
And one hell of an encore it was. Womack came back out for a slow, almost introverted performance of Cloud of Unknowing. It seemed to drag on a little bit but the crowd shut up and let the man sing his song.
Then the real hits came. Feel Good Inc. was up first, with De La Soul coming back to the stage once again. I’ve never seen a crowd bounce up and down like the did during the song, and De La Soul was just eating it up. I’ve never been a huge fan of the song but it seemed like everyone else in the crowd needed to hear it to live. It’s like the crowd was full of zombies and the Gorillaz were delivering the song like it’s a plate of fucking brains. Crazy stuff.
And then it just got crazier. With four simple crash beats, the band was knee-deep in 2000’s Clint Eastwood which really set the crowd off. The track is pretty much a nostalgia trip at this point, but the band made it clear they appreciate what the song did for them back in the day. Rappers Kano and Bashy joined the band on stage to take over the gap left by Del the Funkee Homosapien not being present. They did a respectable job and the song eventually came to a close.
Things ended with a medley of Don’t Get Lost In Heaven and the self-titled track from 2005’s Demon Days. As sequenced on the album, the two songs compliment each other very well and served as a very effective way to close the show. The stringed section and background singers closed the show while the rest of the band slowly exited, and all too soon the show was over.
I don’t think there is a better way to spend a Wednesday night in Dallas. It’s one of the best shows I’ve seen all year and the combination of an excellent live band, top-notch featured guests and beautiful video segments, the Escape to Plastic Beach Tour is simply a must-see for any fan of the band. Tickets are affordable, the venues are intimate and the music’s great. Sounds like a deal to me.
Gorillaz’ Escape to Plastic Beach Tour, Dallas 10.20.2010
Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach (with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble)
19/2000 (with Rosie Wilson)
Last Living Souls
Stylo (with Bobby Womack, Bootie Brown)
On Melancholy Hill
Superfast Jellyfish (with De La Soul)
Tomorrow Comes Today
Empire Ants (with Yukimi Nagano)
Broken (Extended, with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble)
Dirty Harry (with Bootie Brown)
White Flag (with Kano, Bashy and the American Syrian Orchestra. Extended)
To Binge (with Yukimi Nagano)
DARE (with Rosie Wilson)
Cloud of Unknowing (with Bobby Womack)
Feel Good Inc. (with De La Soul)
Clint Eastwood (with Kano and Bashy)
Don’t Get Lost In Heaven