Renaissance man Damon Albarn has come a long way from his art school origins in Blur to fashioning himself as an MC and perhaps the UK answer to Kanye West. So what remains of the man who helmed Blur for so many years? For one thing, the giddy onstage behavior complete with jumping leg drops and kicks. What’s new, the mock flexing and handshake/high fives.
I still marvel at the breadth of Albarn’s Rolodex of collaborators. Getting Mick Jones (!) and Paul Simonon of The Clash to play on record let alone tour with you is no small feat. Those two gents along with all three members of De La Soul and soul man Bobby Womack were all present at the UIC Pavilion Saturday night.
The show opened with a live string section performing Plastic Beach’s ‘Orchestral Intro’ segueing into a clunky onscreen video performance by Snoop Dogg. This was the one weak part of the night that would be revisited on ‘Dare’ when the head of Shaun Ryder was onscreen. Were these songs absolutely necessary to hear with recorded audio, I’m not so sure.
The songs from Plastic Beach translated incredibly well from record to stage and as a whole were the best songs of the night. The Gorillaz set spread 24 songs over 1 hour 45 minutes, perhaps justifying a higher than usual ticket price that undoubtedly funded the 25-30 live musicians onstage.
One of the early highlights was ‘Stylo’ with Bobby Womack. Much as Blur progressed from album to album the same can be said about Gorillaz. A song like ’19-2000’ sounds almost juvenile and out of place when ranked with the gloriously complex ‘Plastic Beach,’ which closed out the set proper.
The encore opened with Womack on a stool performing a heartfelt rendition of ‘Cloud Of Unknowing’ followed by the punkish ‘Punk’ from the debut album. This all made way for the 2nd appearance by De La Soul and the maniacal laughter of their DJ Dave on ‘Feel Good Inc.’ The De La guys took turns rapping verses and dancing with Simonon, mockingly playing air bass with him. Closing the night was the two part ‘Don’t Get Lost In Heaven /Demon Days’ and the brilliant choir vocals ‘In these demon days/It’s so cold inside/So hard for a good soul to survive/You can’t even trust the air you breathe/Because mother earth wants us all to leave.’ And then the audience left.
What’s next for the one-time leader of BritPop is anyone’s guess. The third Gorillaz record was something of a surprise return after Albarn had pretty much insisted that he had retired the cartoon guise. Might we see a Gorillaz movie? A Gorillaz stage musical? A new Blur record or tour? Whatever it may be I know I’ll be along for the ride having watched Albarn at Metro for Modern Life to Saturday night at a well packed UIC Pavilion, his ambition and talent is truly something to behold.
1. Orchestral Intro
2. Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach
4. Last Living Souls
5. O Green World
6. Stylo (w/Bobby Womack)
7. On Melancholy Hill
8. Rhinestone Eyes
9. Superfast Jellyfish (w/De La Soul)
10. Kids With Guns
11. Tomorrow Comes Today
13. Dirty Harry
14. El Mañana
16. White Flag
17. Glitter Freeze
18. Plastic Beach
19. Cloud Of Unknowing (w/Bobby Womack)
21. Feel Good Inc. (w/De La Soul)
22. Clint Eastwood
23. Don’t Get Lost In Heaven
24. Demon Days