Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Casio on a Plastic Beach

If not for the taxing endeavour undertaken a few months ago at the insistence of the Frenemies, I may not have re-kindled my love of Gorillaz.

Had I not re-kindled that unholy alliance with Murdoc and twisted love of 2D, I may have missed the best show this year and certainly one that has made it in the Top 5 of shows I have seen.

The zany stories behind all members with Phase 2 during the promotion of Demon Days ended five years or so years ago, and Phase 3 began on a tiny island at coordinates: 48° 52' 36" S, 123° 23' 36" W

Noodle was presumed dead, Russell was not invited to come back to record with Murdoc, and 2D was kidnapped to resume vocal duties.

Clearly, the Phase 3 Plastic Beach adventure was going to be no less entertaining than previous Phases but what about the music?

When I first heard that Damon Albarn gathered a bunch of artists together for guest work on the album (more so than ever before), I feared a gimmick.  However, with the release of the album in March, it was obvious that my concerns were unfounded.

With the excitement of a solid, incredibly diverse album mixing alternative rock with hip-hop, synth, brass and a full orchestral score and talent from countries with sounds not heard in the mainstream; and a fan club membership to the Sub Division (formerly G-Club) - I eagerly waited the announcement of a tour.

How would Damon and Jamie Hewlett do it?

How would Murdoc, 2D, Noodle (cyborg and real) and a rather large Russell be transformed for a stage?

The accomplished, bold 3rd album would be no easy feat to re-create live but with the genius of Damon and Jamie, nothing is impossible.

Welcome to the World of Plastic Beach.

The Gorillaz: Escape to Plastic Beach Tour @ Madison Square Garden on 10/08/2010 Set List:

Orchestral Intro
Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach
19/2000 (with Miho Hatori)
Last Living Souls
Stylo (with Bobby Womack)
On Melancholy Hill
Rhinestone Eyes
Superfast Jellyfish (with Gruff Rhys and De La Soul)
Tomorrow Comes Today
Some Kind of Nature (with Lou Reed)
Empire Ants (with Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon)
Dirty Harry (with Bootie Brown)
El Mañana
White Flag (with Bashy, Kano and the American Syrian Orchestra)
To Binge (with Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon)
DARE (with Rosie Wilson)
Glitter Freeze
Sweepstakes (with Mos Def and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble)
Plastic Beach


Cloud of Unknowing (with Bobby Womack)
Feel Good Inc. (with De La Soul)
Clint Eastwood (with Bashy)
Don't Get Lost In Heaven
Demon Days

The Lowlamps:

Truly there are no real lowlamps to discuss.  Aside from your usual WCK and their outrageously privileged behaviour, the show was free of any major issues.

1.  The girl next to Alex.

With N.E.R.D. on stage already two songs into their set, she could not get to her seat fast enough.  She managed to bowl us both down.  I don't know how getting to her seat changed the fact that she could hear them with her being a mere two steps away from 'settling' in.  During Gorillaz, she proceeded to act a fool.  I don't care for the smell of weed, but I don't get dramatic as if someone's stabbing me in the face multiple times much like that girl did.

2. That one Asian.

I will not begrudge anyone their happiness.  No, not at all.  We were all dancing and having a fantastic time but again, what beat do people hear in their heads sometimes? It certainly wasn't in sync with whatever was being played on stage.  Still, he was a happy kid and good for him.

3. Section 10, Row P

This is a reminder to myself for future reference that this is an awful place to be.  I am spoilt.  It's pit seating at MSG but far enough to be an annoyance, and for my cameras to not work well - hence the crap for crap pictures.

The Highlights:

1. Damon Albarn

Charming, energetic, a sweet-heart, boyish, ecstatic and pure brilliance - that is Damon Albarn.  The happiest man in the Garden that night, Damon not only shined with his winning personality from hugging his guest artists but he also proves he's a maestro of the highest order.

His ability to bring musicians from all genres together is amazing, and then he manages to string it into something catchy, beautiful, and fun which is enhanced by the melodic melancholy vocals that only he can deliver.  Underlying it all is the incredible complexity and layering of sound.  If one album needed to be performed live, this was it.

Damon was in his element, settling down only when he was at his piano.  Otherwise, his glee was enough for everyone in the arena and infectious.  From jumping around, dancing, bouncing on the stage - you could tell he was having the time of his life and wanted us to share in his moment.

2. Jamie Hewlett

Briefly, from behind the scenes and because Damon dragged him on stage, Jamie made an appearance.  It was great seeing them together.  A shy wave from Jamie ended with a humongous hug from Albarn and just like that he was gone.  But it was an incredibly special moment because while Damon gave life to the music of the band, Jamie gave them personas, and a visual facade for the world to love.

2D, Murdoc, Russell and Noodle may not be the cutest or most wholesome of animated figures but they're distinct.  Their stories are as equally important as their music and it's mostly thanks to the beautiful art of Jamie.

3. Gorillaz - the live band

Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Damon Albarn - along with an impressive troupe of musicians.
Sure sometimes, the lyrics are not the most coherent and down right ridiculous.  However, hidden amongst the silliness lie a powerful mix of messages, observations, awe, sadness and a statement on humankind - our perception and our misconceptions in our relations with our fellow man.

All that aside, the musicians assembled for this circus to deliver any of the music's complex themes and sound is a veritable tour de force.  Delivery was strong, loud and perfect - all thanks to 25 plus people on stage at any given time.

It was nothing short of an impressive assembly headed by Albarn and half of The Clash.  With Paul Simonon and Mick Jones playing bass and guitar respectively, you don't really need anyone else.  Yet, their distinct talent shines through, enhances and supports all the other brilliant musicians present - the brass ensemble, the rappers, the rockers, almost every original collaborator for their respective songs in Gorillaz history and the orchestra.

Special mention is needed for Mos Def.  He played his Plastic Beach persona well and is one formidable rapper.  I'm not going to claim to know much about rap but I can recognize that the man has incredible talent.

Mos Def: Running the Arcade at the Carnival on Plastic Beach, with help from the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.
And then of course, there was Lou Reed.

Lou Reed - An angry elf?
A legend and a cranky beast, Lou managed to make a debacle of "Some Kind of Nature".  It was enough to make us all in awe that he was even there.  The show came to a halt for a few minutes while he fiddled with his guitar, barked unpleasantness to the tech guys and belted out a riff like no other.  He proceeded to slowly and out of time and sync read the lyrics for the song from a sheet.  It was a freakin' mess but then you realize - it was so damned rock n' roll, that you can appreciate his star power alone.

4. Gorillaz - the Animated band

Ah, back in the day...
Not 'there' but not forgotten, videos spanning Gorillaz' career were showcased on a 70 foot screen behind the action on stage.  Vintage takes from their debut, through Demon Days and all new sequences from Plastic Beach were the back draft for the visuals.  As 2D sang, Albarn matched the vocals (for the most part) and the band played in sync.  The journey through the Phases was a wonderful, mixed up one.  Indeed, had you been following what was going on, Murdoc, 2D and Cyborg Noodle were stuck in the dressing room while the crappy 'fake, opening' band were playing and making a mess of things.

And now... scary times.  Always been scary for 2D though, yeah?
For me, it was not easy for me to tear my eyes away from the screens.  They were videos I had seen enough times to be familiar with but I am hopelessly attached to the animated counterparts of 2D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russel.  I am very much invested in their lives - the same way one would be invested in characters from a favourite novel.  When they're ridiculous, I feel a silly happiness.  When a sad song is sung by Albarn, I feel for 2D and Noodle or whoever else may be involved.

Certainly I was a little bit teary eyed when "El Mañana" was played.

5. The Setlist

A perfect set list would have included "O Green World", "All Alone", "Latin Simone" and "The Swagga" but honestly, what we got at MSG was very near perfection.

Best Performances of the Evening: "Glitter Freeze", "Rhinestone Eyes", "Last Living Souls", "Dirty Harry", "White Flag" and "Sweepstakes"

Dirty Harry - those kids are awesome.

Curse the kid who got to take home the White Flag.  It should have been me!
Honourable Mention:

N.E.R.D. - I missed maybe the first song into their set but from what I heard, they were amazing.  I probably could have done without the two dancers on either side of the stage but I very much appreciated the sound produced.  Two drummers and lots of talent of everyone on stage, N.E.R.D. was a fantastic opener and well-worth seeing live.

My only real regret is that TD5, H1, Beetchie, AND X (edit on 10/15/2010) were not with me and that I had to give up my tickets to Gorillaz' O2 shows in November.  If they come around again next year, we all should make the trip to go.  What started as a joke over 10 years ago by Damon and Jamie, Gorillaz has no doubt turned into an important band in music expanding various genres.

If there was ever a time to see them, that time is now.  The Event that is their live act is beyond spectacular and I can write here for an entire day about it but would never do them justice.

This year or next, make your Escape to Plastic Beach.  And be mindful of that Casio.



  2. Bwahahahahaha. You left me! Yep. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

    I will add X to the post. In the meanwhile, the blog thinks you are:

    WV: crizell

  3. You lost me. I have know idea what all this means! I still like your blog, though!!

  4. There's nothing confusing about a casio on a plastic beach, is there?

    Heh. Thanks, Judie. Just a very long concert review for a great band I had the good fortune of seeing last week.

    WV: sucin. Bloggie Boo, stop it.


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