GORILLAZ at MSG (10/8)
Everybody’s favorite cartoon band (sorry Alvin and the Chipmunks) has announced plans for their first world tour. Gorillaz is the creation of Blur frontman Damon Albarn and illustrator Jamie Hewlett. They have committed their band to dates in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and North America (most of the North American dates have not yet been announced). Damon Albarn and friends will tour much of Gorillaz material from their new album Plastic Beach when the Escape to Plastic Beach tour makes its way to Madison Square Garden on October 8th. No word yet on when tickets officially go on sale. It's uncertain what special guests will join Gorillaz onstage for their show, but I’m sure the Internet will be abuzz with all sorts of rumors right up until those appearances happen. Among the many artists featured on Plastic Beach are rappers Mos Def and Snoop Dogg, female singer Little Dragon, the guitarist and the bassist of The Clash Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, and rock legend Lou Reed. The eclectic mix of musical styles represented by these artists is both what’s good and bad about Plastic Beach. The hodgepodge of different sounds results in some great individual tracks, as well as some real clunkers. What is missing from Beach is the consistent vibe of their previous LP Demon Days. That was a perfect album, and one of the best of the last decade. What Demon Days and their first record Gorillaz had was a gloomy, almost macabre quality about much of them, epitomized by tracks like Clint Eastwood, Tomorrow Comes Today, and El Manana. Plastic Beach is much more of a straightforward pop record. I can’t really bring myself to fault Albarn for trying something different here, or for falling short of my ridiculously high expectations, especially when there are such standout tracks as Broken, Plastic Beach, Rhinestone Eyes, and the sublime Lou Reed collaboration Some Kind of Nature. What your’ left with is a handful of mediocre tracks, a few misjudged collaborations (Superfast Jellyfish feat. Gruff Rhys & De La Soul, and Glitter Freeze feat. Mark E. Smith), and a good three or four cuts that are sure to stay in heavy rotation on your iPod for quite some time. The highpoints definitely overshadow the lows. That's why, despite my relative disappointment in Beach, I’ll still say that it is one of the best releases of the year. Unfortunately, that praise says more about the sorry state of music in the 21st century than it does about the album itself. Though I have some reservations about the new album, for me Albarn can’t really do too much wrong. Not only was he in one of the biggest pop acts of the 90’s with Blur, but, in addition to releasing music via his cartoon avatars, he has continued to broaden his musical horizon and explore many ‘world’ influences. His interest in Malian music has led to collaborations with Afel Bocoum and Toumani Diabate and the creation of his own record label Honest Jon’s, which spotlights mostly Malian and Nigerian musicians. In 2007 he joined forces with bassist Paul Simonon of the Clash, guitarist Simon Tong who contributed greatly to Demon Days, and famed afro-beat pioneer, drummer Tony Allen of Fela Kuti’s infamous Africa 70 band, to release a stellar record under the name The Good, the Bad, and the Queen. He and Hewlett also unveiled an epic Chinese musical stage-play called Monkey: Journey to the West in 2007. That interest in different genres and cultures of music has fueled some incredibly creative and fascinating work over the past decade. Even with a relative misfire like Plastic Beach, the results are always interesting, and never entirely devoid of greatness.
So what is a Gorillaz live performance like? Well, a little bit of everything. Albarn has said that the musicians do not plan on performing behind a silk screen for this tour, as they have done for several previous shows. Though the real musicians will be front and center this time around, there will be plenty of focus on the artificial band. As with previous performances, the music will be accompanied by images and videos created by Hewlett of Gorillaz' animated members Russel (drums), Murdoc (bass guitar), Noodle (guitar), and 2D (vocals). (pictured below from left to right)