America has done wonders for Gorillaz. Damon Albarn last week announced that he has recorded a “love letter” to the US on his iPad while on tour in the country (he hopes to release it as an album before Christmas). More important, given the grumbles about their Glastonbury show, his multifarious band – no longer just a cartoon wheeze but a whirlwind of guest stars such as Bobby Womack, De La Soul, and Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash – have discovered their live mojo Stateside.
That festival appearance was too lugubrious, many felt, for a cider-sozzled summer night. But if Gorillaz’s dancey-yet-doleful hybrid of pop, rap, reggae et al is better indoors than out, the real difference between then and now is that the ship’s captain is visibly at the helm (although ditching the film of dolphins being killed certainly helped). Instead of lurking towards the back of the stage, Albarn dashes to the front whenever possible, with the kind of energy he last mustered on Blur’s “Song 2”.
The mutant manga of Jamie Hewlett’s graphics still draws heavily on the Plastic Beach LP and its vision of ecological Armageddon-on-Sea. After Snoop Dogg, in Nelsonian regalia, delivers his peroration from a video poop deck, the pensive dub of “Last Living Souls” creates a tsunami of anticipation. It breaks on the bubblegum hip-hop of “19-2000” and surges through the driving electro of “Stylo”, which aches with Womack’s wounded soul-singing.
There are almost enough people on stage to crew a galleon, but each new vocalist simply goes with the flow. Revelling in their naval attire, Simonon and Jones are Albarn’s port and starboard throughout. Only Neneh Cherry founders, her voice drowned by the bass on “Kids with Guns”. The Fall’s Mark E Smith, sloping on like a reprobate father of the bride, cajoles “Glitter Freeze” into an almighty glam stomp. Among the rappers, local boys Kano and Bashy ignite “White Flag”, with help from the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music.
The Plastic Beach narrative never coheres, but the animations are a wild ride, and there’s an insane logic to the musical mash-ups. “Feel Good Inc” monsters the encore, but it’s earlier, during the chart-friendly “Doncamatic (All Played Out)”, with young British singer Daley, that Albarn’s role as the anti-Simon Cowell is ever clearer. ()
World tour continues until December 21.