Six degrees of Damon Albarn
Last Friday, the day after Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz played one of the shows of the year in Dublin, there was a story on the wires about a forthcoming album. Recorded on an iPad during the band’s recent US tour, Albarn …
Last Friday, the day after Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz played one of the shows of the year in Dublin, there was a story on the wires about a forthcoming album. Recorded on an iPad during the band’s recent US tour, Albarn hopes this new Gorillaz album will be released before Christmas. This is in addition to the story on the wires a few days before that Dublin show about another album from another Albarn band, this one featuring Tony Allen, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and various musicians from the Africa Express carnival. Albarn is obviously not someone who needs a couple of years between projects.
Aside from the sheer volume of Albarn’s non-Blur work, the high quality of the releases and projects is also striking. While both Gorillaz and The Good The Bad & The Queen received loads of attention, his Mali Music album and Monkey opera were also very much on the money. Add in some soundtrack work and an on-the-downlow album of solo demos (which I don’t recall being half as bad as this review suggests it was) and you’ve someone who seems to have one heck of a creative itch.
Such creativity is one of the reasons why you got a show as exciting and thrilling as Gorillaz at the O2 the other night. Of course, not everything which they tried on the night worked – Mark E Smith’s turn comes to mind – but there was even mischevious madness to be enjoyed from such methods. This was a live shows of grand, epic, daft, all-singing, all-dancing, all-prancing proportions. Usually, such an ensemble piece is destined to to fall flat on its arse but, as conducted by Albarn, the Gorillaz spectacular stayed upright for the guts of two hours.
Of course, you can credit the players for that. There were more people on the O2 stage on occasions than you’ll get on the pitch at a hurling match so stage and tour management skills for this one must be finally honed. Certainly, the calibre of those onboard the Gorillaz ship is redoubtable: in addition to the shambolic Smith, you’d Bobby Womack, De La Soul, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Little Dragon, The Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown, Roses Gabor, Kano, Bashy and a lad called Daley from Manchester walking on and off that stage as the song demanded. Meanwhile, the hearty crew of musicians who provided the sonic booms included Clash veterans Mick Jones and Paul Simonon.
Then, there’s the material. Pulling largely from current album “Plastic Beach”, the show had none of the unease or languors which afflicted the band’s keynote Glastonbury appearance over the summer because the band have now learned how to play and, just as importantly, project those tunes. Under a giant screen which ran video footage of everything from a choir of gap-toothed cartoon kids (for “Dirty Harry”) to Snoop Dogg (for “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach”), the band unpacked and re-arranged those songs with great intent. Sure, they also threw in some choice cuts from the back-catalogue but, from where I was sitting with families to the left of me and hipsters to the right, the audience were digging every morsel.
But the real reason the Gorillaz live show works is because of that lad in the red and black stripey top who covers every inch of that stage. Albarn bore the brunt of the criticism for that Glastonbury show but it’s obvious that he’s taken stock and recalibrated the live show according to what worked and what didn’t work on that occasion. What we saw in the O2 was an artist with a big, widescreen imagination working every creative sinew to make sure it worked this time around. Remember, the Gorillaz live thing was originally some musicians playing behind a sheet so we’re talking giant leaps to get to this sprawling circus. That the smarts and the gumption required to pull this one off will now be applied to other projects is a reason to be cheerful. After all, isn’t the notion of a pop culture full of people like Albarn far more exciting than the notion of a culture dominated Fade Street and The X Factor?