I don’t believe in idolizing musicians. They’re only people after all. Often ridiculously talented people who can read my mind and project my emotions in song far more articulately than I ever could, but people nonetheless. What I can say about Damon Albarn is that I greatly admire him. As Blur frontman, solo artist, opera composer and in this case, cartoon band purveyor, he has never rested on his laurels or feared losing audiences as a result of taking a musical risk. So of course a live Gorillaz show wouldn’t be a casual lasers-and-lights event.
It’s rather sweet that Little Dragon and De La Soul were given the chance to flex their solo skills outside of Gorillaz cameos with individual support sets. Little Dragon were electronically titillating, with a spectacularly emotive frontwoman in Yukimi Nagano. De La Soul got the crowd in the party mood with plenty of crowd interaction, hand raising and bass beats that vibrated from toes to head.
How did Gorillaz evolve from a cartoon band into a multi-limbed behemoth of musicians from across the seas? Somehow an equilibrium has been reached between the two as the strains of Orchestral Intro heralded the arrival of the band, including The Clash members Paul Simonon and Mick Jones.
Then there’s Damon Albarn. The man behind 2D’s hollowed cartoon eyes appeared to have child-like enthusiasm and energy. In an almost two hour show he would proceed to leap across the stage, frantically jump in the air and grip his back up singers by the shoulders to encourage louder cries. He orchestrated without dominating, letting all of his guest voices including the spectacular Bobby Womack, command the stage in their own fashion. It felt like a family party that we’d all lucked in on getting an invitation to attend.
The songs came thick and fast, the creases seemingly ironed out after extensively touring most of the year. The setlist was basically perfect, anyone disappointed was nitpicking. Dirty Harry came with hilarious cartoon kid imagery, Snoop Dogg in a sailing outfit complete with telescope for Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach was a definitive highlight, and the mass insanity induced by Dare and Feel Good Inc was contagiously exciting.
A heart-melting intimacy was created between Albarn and Nagano duetting on To Binge before Albarn enjoyed a brief respite during a solo from the Syrian Orchestra, to which Mick Jones proved to be the coolest dude ever by dancing like a grandpa at a wedding. His counterpart Simonon was, to quote my friend at the show, ‘a bad-assss’, slinking about the stage, bass hung low, sailor cap disguising his brow.
However, the best part was watching Damon Albarn’s reaction as he looked out to a sea of adoring fans, with a disbelieving smile crinkling his face as the final operatic positivity of Don’t Get Lost In Heaven beamed down upon us; there’s little changed in the man of many faces, from Britpop to now.