Friday, October 8
For all that he’s achieved musically in the last 20 years, Damon Albarn has rarely seemed comfortable in his own skin. The nauseating Mockney of ‘Parklife’-era [a]Blur[/b] was a famously ill-fitting image, the joyless muso that fronted [a]The Good, The Bad And The Queen[/a] smacked of trying too hard, and even the earlier incantation of [a]Gorillaz[/a] saw him hiding behind caricatures. But now, it appears that Albarn is finally content to just be himself; no screens, no silly hats and definitely no daft accents. And it’s an unveiling that has come just in time for the gig he’s been waiting for all his life.
True, the unmasking of Gorillaz initially disappointed many earlier in the year but judging by the full house at Madison Square Garden tonight, the fans are finally ready to let their love of the band’s music overtake their desire for a post-modern spectacle. Mind you, it would take a lot of bells and whistles to steal the limelight from this version of Gorillaz. Featuring a string section, backing singers, horns and half of the Clash (the bloody Clash!), they immediately hit a killer groove with ‘19/2000’ and ‘Stylo’ which features a sparkling guest turn from Mos Def and which also reminds everyone why it’s destined to receive numerous ‘single of the year’ accolades in the weeks to come.
All the pre-show buzz surrounds Lou Reed’s rumoured appearance but when it comes, it’s strangely underwhelming. The ex-Velvet Underground man ambles on stage, takes his sweet time setting up and predictably plays the [b]‘Plastic Beach’[/b] filler track [b]‘Some Kind Of Nature’[/b]. It feels like a sideshow to the main gig and perhaps inevitably, he gets shooed away hastily as the band get back into gear with the stellar soul of [b]‘Empire Ants’[/b].
Special guests or not, there’s nothing that can change the fact that this is Albarn’s night and he takes the show to the crowd like a little kid gleefully showing off his new toy whenever he can. It’s an infectious energy but things take a slightly sanctimonious turn during [b]‘White Flag’[/b]. After proudly introducing a collection of guesting Arabic musicians who help give the track its vibrant Middle-Eastern flavour, the screens begin to show clichéd images of camels while Albarn himself comes perilously close to doing a Bono by unfurling a giant white flag.
It’s a cack-handed crack at preaching multicultural unity, which will probably make him cringe when he looks back on it a few years. But in the context of tonight, it’s a small blip in what is otherwise a glorious coming-out party that proves that Gorillaz are finally a band to be savoured rather than a concept to be deconstructed.