I once had a “discussion” with a gentleman who insisted that real people did not play onstage at Gorillaz concerts. Somewhere, that same dude would be shaken to know that Blur frontman Damon Albarn was greeting everyone with “M1 A1” at TD Garden on Sunday (October 14), wearing what was either sweatpants or the baggiest pair of grey jeans ever stitched together post-1999.
This ain’t no Roy Orbison hologram tour (which, by the way, is a real-ass show that’s happening in Lynn next month. We fear the future). The tally racks up Albarn and his 12 other musical confidants in the group, plus guest rappers De La Soul, Peven Everett, Jamie Principle, and Bootie Brown. The closest thing you’ll get to those virtual reality pipe dreams are vids of verses from Snoop Dogg, DRAM and anyone else who couldn’t make it on the road (for the record, they took four featured artists on tour, what more do you want?)
The group’s heavily-steeped-in-faux-folklore narrative follows them, though, including the fact that virtual bassist Murdoc has been, um, incarcerated (#freeMurdoc) and Powerpuff Girls villain Ace from fellow cartoon band The Gangeen Gang has taken his place in all the group’s 2018 The Now Now material.
Needless to say, Gorillaz live is a very in-the-flesh experience, but that doesn’t mean that Albarn’s imagination can’t and won’t spread his signature sunshine-in-a-bag farther in person than he ever has on the confines of a record.
Heavy are the frets of the band that pens one of the greatest songs since the turn of the century, and that’s the position that Gorillaz have found themselves in since birthing “Feel Good Inc.,” the 2005 single that fused the most blissful sounding melancholy with unexpectedly boisterous trip-hop. Another Demon Days isn’t gonna happen — been there, done that — but the group still favored that era of music over anything else during their 20-fucking-8 song set in Boston, outnumbering even the amount of songs from The Now Now. And, unlike most groups who can pick and choose (read: ignore) amongst their discography when they take their catalogue on tour, Gorillaz can’t connect their dots of the batshit past without referencing each record (does The Fall really even count as a Gorillaz record? Does it? This is a serious inquiry).
There’s the group’s newfound post-Kong Studios haven that launched an entire album (“On Melancholy Hill”), virtual guitarist Noodle being re-created as a cyborg and then promptly shot in the forehead (“Stylo”), and more recently, Murdoc meeting the dude who would eventually frame him (“Strobelite”) and the new post-Murdoc epoch (all the new music vids, including “Humility” and “Tranz”). None of that timeline is performed “chronologically,” of course, and without context, you can’t glean any of that information from them, but the diehards really savor it and everyone else gets their fill of cartoon capers rolling in the background.
But even out of order, Gorillaz proved their genre-mashing reputation all over again when they juxtaposed all of their stylistic facets in a few hours: The snide and slick (“Kids With Guns”), the smooth (“Kansas”), and the slinky sensual (“Every Planet We Reach Is Dead”), all equally stimulating for your eyes and ears. Albarn, all the while, gave a face to cartoon lead singer 2-D and danced like a dad in manner that is debatably more unsettling than his character’s pupil-less eyes.
With almost 30 songs on their roster, the group tucked in a version of “To Binge” with opener Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano, marking the first time they’ve performed the tune live since 2010. The excitement for that entire duet, however, paled next to the fervor that arose when Albarn put a melodica to his lips for those few essential notes on “Clint Eastwood.”
Sure, you can’t perform their first hit without the accompanying music vid playing on a massive backdrop and gobbling up most of the spotlight, but for those few melodica moments before Albarn starts singing in tangent with his 50-foot 2-D caricature, Wizard Of Oz style, you’re reminded that Gorillaz are Humanz after all.