LIVE AND DANGEROUS: A spectacular spectacle for a virtual band

by Staff

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The Escape to Plastic Beach Tour has included performances from the Hynotic Brass Ensemble, Roses Gabor, and Little Dragon. David J. Olender / Photo Editor

By Maggie Pehanick, Entertainment Editor

Gorillaz put on a concert last Thursday night that would make John Lithgow’s conservative pastor from “Footloose” instigate a record burning and implement a mandatory citywide curfew for all young people.

To be fair, the Gorillaz show wasn’t exactly that; it was less of a concert and more of a star-spangled, theatrical production. Lead vocalist Damon Albarn has had his share of experiences with memorable performances, which is more than apparent after Thursday’s spectacle. As one of the foremost leaders in the Britpop movement of the ‘90s, Albarn served as the primary songwriter and singer for alt-rock group Blur before founding Gorillaz as a side project in 1998.

One of the creative aspects that makes the group’s music accessible to listeners is its use of many different genres of music within each track. From hip-hop to alternative pop to techno, Albarn doesn’t discriminate when it comes to putting together a great sound. This eagerness to collaborate with different types of musicians was evidenced by N.E.R.D., the opening act. Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Shae Haley put the crowd in a state of exhilaration as they made the audience stand to emphasize the importance of individuality.

After a brief interlude, the headliner began. Beneath the giant neon “GORILLAZ” sign, Albarn and company began with tracks from their newest album, “Plastic Beach.” Guest lyricists Yukimi Nagano and soul singer Bobby Womack both lent their voices to a handful of numbers.

Though Gorillaz has been known to hide behind sheets during shows, revealing only silhouettes to the audience, this time it hid behind nothing but unadulterated talent. Albarn pounced around the stage while a full band, complete with a jazz horn section and backup singers, swayed in the background.

During the performance, footage of the group’s alter-egos, cartoon characters 2-D, Noodle, Murdoc and Russel streamed on the jumbo-tron. Albarn’s voice was both soothing and rousing as it alternated between slow ballads and jump-inducing beats.

Though Gorillaz’s commercial appeal is proven by its multi-platinum status, the music is so unique it’s hard to believe the group has achieved such widespread mainstream appeal. However, looking around the trance-like state of Viejas Arena patrons last week, there was no denying the hold Gorillaz has on its audience.

By the time De La Soul came onstage and laid down raps and cackles to “Feel Good Inc.,” the crowd’s excitement was at a near fever pitch. As the opening beats to “Clint Eastwood” rumbled, the audience may well have been ready to follow Albarn off the edge of a bridge.

The group’s extensive North American tour is nearly complete. Its last stop will be in Vancouver, Canada tonight before it heads overseas for two months to Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

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