The cartoon rock group known as Gorillaz came to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to play to a packed house of ecstatic fans. This extremely original concept project of two 90’s icon artists, Blur frontman Damon Albarn and Tank Girl comic artist Jamie Hewlett, was born in the late 90’s when the two shared a flat and hatched a plan to totally reinvent their artistic careers. Blur was one of the prominent bands of the Britpop movement, and as many of their rival bands, like their arch-enemies Oasis, seemed to try to copy other classic English bands like the Beatles. They also often played into the whole tongue-in-cheek British invasion throw back and played up the intense competitive spirit, mostly sold by the rather sensationalist tabloid attitude of the British music press of the time. However, Albarn and Blur stayed strikingly original and genuine and managed to push the boundaries of their genre.
Most artists, especially those in the Britpop scene, never seem to be able escape their formerly popular sound, but this project gave Damon the perfect opportunity to remake his music in ways that others never got the chance to. As the cartoon singer named 2-D, frontman of a fictional animated rock group, he could stretch out into brand new territories as a solo artist. He mixed his post-punk aesthetic with a wide swath of elements including electronica, rap, soul, world music, and gospel, blending it all up in ways that he would have been relentlessly scorned for if he had tried doing as Blur or even an old Britpop legend grabbing for a bit of his former glory. It even perhaps gave him a chance to mock his past dysfunctional and debaucherous life as a member of a popular rock band. It also gave Hewlett a chance to take his art that was at one time considered revolutionary and counter-culture and expand it into bold new worlds of animation and numerous zones of various experimental visual arts.
Opening the show was the spaced-out and funked-up hip-hop collective from LA called The Internet, who just released their fourth full album Hive Mind and is already on my short list for best LPs of the year. With a chilled out living room stage set and a static TV playing on the big screen overhead full of subliminal messaging, the band laid out a seductively bass-smacking groove for lead vocalist Syd to launch off of, and it came off as a wonderfully effortless and imaginative trip-out.
The Gorillaz just stopped by NYC last year for their Humanz tour, but they definitely felt like they were firing on all cylinders this year in support of yet another new album, the far funkier The Now Now. Not only did Albarn come with an expansive backing band complete with two drummers and a choir, but he was also packing an impressive supply of surprise guest performers including De La Soul and Mos Def, as well as vocalist Peven Everett, house musician Jamie Principle, and Bootie Brown of The Pharcyde. I was very impressed at the well-mixed and stirred-up arrangement of songs chosen from across the last twenty years and six albums of material for the setlist, always mixing new and old in a way that always seemed to keep you interested. Some of Damon’s slower tracks can verge and delve into self-indulgence and get tiring after too long, but there was always more up-tempo. The new songs are definitely warming up to me more, and the classics sounding better and more vital than ever. Albarn has already announced he is bringing back his other group called The Good, the Bad & the Queen with members of The Clash and The Verve, but he has also revealed he has another Gorillaz in the works after that, so we may not have to wait to long to dance along with the cartoon gang again.
Article: Dean Keim