The “Escape to Plastic Beach” Tour arrived at Oakland’s Oracle Arena on Saturday night, bringing some new acquaintances and familiar faces to Gorillaz fans.
Gorillaz had come about as a collaboration between Damon Albarn, Blur frontman, and Jamie Hewlett, the artist behind the “Tank Girl” comics, in 1998. The well loved characters of Noodle, Murdoc, 2D, and Russell made up the Gorillaz image and took the place of traditional vocalist, bassist, guitarist, and drummer. Since its creation, the band has sold more than 20 million records and sold out many shows along the way.
While the multimedia aspects are essential to the Gorillaz, it’s more than just a virtual band–there are social and world connections lying deep under all the fun and glam in the show. Until now, Damon had put the band behind the screen, but this tour was marked by the fact that everyone played to the front of the projected video animations.
The cinematic views of war and real life mingled in with the stylistic cartoons; the whole presentation was balanced–intelligent, cheeky, and innovative like we had come to expect over the years. The wide screen videos themselves, of child-like frenzy and action, displayed above large colour-lit “GORILLAZ” letters, were spectacular. Hewlett’s quirky art style with its nuances never seems to fail to make an impression.
Seeing Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash, nearly side by side with Damon Albarn in between them, in their famous captain’s hats and matching with Damon’s white zombie maquillage made for the best Halloween ever. Mick looked happy, doing his little dances while playing rhythmic guitar along with the band’s main guitarist, Jeff Wootton.
He struck a nice cross between proper English navy captain and zombie pirate. Cool doesn’t even begin to cover him. Amusingly, one concertgoer told me, “The guy behind me kept screaming his name in between songs.” (I may have been doing the same.) As for Paul, in a leather pilot jacket and same captain’s hat, with his bass hung so low that the strap touched the back of his knees–he wasn’t too different from his punk days.
The attractive, insouciant rebel edge was very much there in his appearance, the way he moved, and in the electric loaded bass lines that came out of his Fender.
Having the two on this tour is really special (another reason not to miss it) and the audience should know what a rare opportunity it is to witness it.
Damon was Damon, energetic–quick as a bullet, humorous, as childishly silly as ever–and serious when he wanted to be. At one point he held a girl’s hand and sang to her, sending jealousy and approval through tens of thousands of fans.
His intensely versatile showmanship, and the ability to mix and transition between different genres and cultures was natural to him–the crowd was drawn to that. It was refreshing to see a frontman who doesn’t want to command the center of attention all of the time, who can take a laugh in the back while pouncing on the piano keys and synths close to Mick Jones and the strings section. Obviously Damon is constant captain of this stellar crew and runs a tight ship. It’s also fitting to have multiple guests on this tour, from the legendary Bobby Womack joining the group on the soul daze, “Cloud of Unknowing,” (complete with stained glass windows) and the
faublous Rosie Wilson on “19-2000” and “DARE”, to “To Binge” sung with sweet Little Dragon, a soft break from the uncontainable hip hop, dance and indie rock n’ roll. Damon’s ideas and friends are as eclectic as the splashy music and imagery. It makes sense to include them in the celebration, especially as “the more the merrier” applies to the vivid performances.
“White Flag” was an especial favorite with the audience–it’s great fun to see Mick and Paul shakin’ it on this one; Bashy and Kano did so well rapping with the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music, and the large white flag waving in the crowd reminded me of a certain U2 moment. Even though the setlist could have been improved, any real faults couldn’t be detected, as each song was well recieved.
Electro noises burned into the layered surface of beats, keys, strings, and guitar as Damon’s distinctive monotone drowsy voice connected it all togethor. Hits delivered towards the end like “Clint Eastwood,” “Feel Good Inc.” and “DARE” drove the crowd wild, but the Plastic Beach songs like “Glitter Freeze,” “Broken”, and “Superfast Jellyfish” found new diamond dimensions live.
The vibrant, spontaneous party atmosphere added to the nature of the show. The stage was prepared with jack o lanterns for the occasion, while the Chicago Hypnotic Brass Ensemble donned on hockey goalie masks, and various guests came onstage in hoods and robes. The concert crowds arrived to the party in fantastic Halloween costumes. Some of the interesting ones included the light up suit man easily seen from the bleachers, and the girl and man wearing wolf heads as hats.
The Gorillaz references were inevitable. Many in nautical outfits and captains suits, I counted three gorillas that night. Before Gorillaz went on, I thought the man outside the Oracle dressed exactly like Mick/Paul, just as 43,342 others were–but clearly not to this degree–except in zombie makeup. He did a tremendous job of it and kept me doing double takes. Then I realized it WAS Mick Jones, in zombie makeup.
Damon told us what we were all feeling: “Tonight, obviously, is bleeding marvelous.” This is by far the best Gorillaz tour (their first world tour to boot), and last night might possibly have been one of the best shows so far. It accomplished what it was meant to be: an adventure, an escape through “rhinestone eyes.”