Gorillaz Successfully Meshes Aural Refinement with Visual Spectacle

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With live orchestral accompaniment and animated alter-egos, Gorillaz gave Oakland's Oracle Arena a sensually vivid tour of the Plastic Beach Saturday night. Only silhouettes of the musicians were cast against a pale backdrop, as an illuminated band logo and LCD screen instead illustrated their journey. The string ensemble hummed meditatively while the camera scanned the computerized island and introduced the audience to their temporary oasis, a concept developed by their most recent album. Subtle horns and a smooth bass line complemented the opening vocals of Snoop Dogg, the suave captain of our virtual ship, preparing us for a surprisingly humble night of child-like adventure.

The spacious venue held plenty of pricey nosebleed seats, but distance from the performers themselves was only of minimal concern. As a duo consisting of composer Damon Albarn and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, Gorillaz give equal weight onstage to the musical and visual components of their collaborative project. Animated shorts of the fictional band members 2D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle and Russel Hobbs were displayed clearly enough for everyone to see, regardless of ticket price, the actual musicians purposefully downplayed by low lighting. Thus, the performance was something more akin to an animated opera and, even on their first ever world tour, the true men behind Gorillaz remained enigmatic, leaving the limelight for their animated characters and celebrity guest performers alone.

Indeed, a handful of the cameos made on their albums appeared in person at the show. Bobby Womack danced around on stage in a fluorescent cape during the electro-pop hit "Stylo." Recurring collaborators De La Soul rallied the crowd into a dancing frenzy with their appearances on "Superfast Jellyfish" and "Feel Good Inc." Most notable, however, were the contributions of Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, standing in on guitar and bass. A bit far removed but not completely detached from their punk and reggae roots with the Clash, the two fit in with Albarn's collective as if it was the only group they'd ever known.

Even with such big names sharing the stage, the group performed with amazing chemistry and unwavering cohesion. There appeared to be a shared respect for the greater spectacle that Albarn and Hewlett had composed, one that many thought might never be possible outside of the studio. Each contributor put his or her heart out on the stage, but they did it for the love of music and not for personal glory. Such commitment was evident in the rich performances of even the group's lesser known tracks.

While singles like retro dance track "DARE" reminded everyone just how rowdy Gorillaz could get, the audience was most affected by the minimalist alternative tracks. The droning harmonica of "Tomorrow Comes Today" and the eerie pubescent chorus of "Dirty Harry" redefined the term hair-raising when matched with images of D2's downtrodden journey through empty city streets and a cuddly sea of lost children, respectively. As the four animated characters took on suspenseful action-adventures onscreen, it was hard not to feel a little nostalgic for the days of playground fantasies.

While many production-heavy music acts use live visual gimmicks as a crutch, Gorillaz managed to defy this trap on Saturday. Perhaps they just have an enormous budget that most artists don't have access to. Whatever the reason may be, the group put on a visually enticing show and an even more impressive musical performance. Alas, the only thing that could have made it better would be more room to dance and an IMAX screen.

Send Erin your animated avatar at [email protected]

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