July 16, 2017

Gorillaz- Canada Gig Review - 2017

The Air Canada Centre on July 10.
Gorillaz persists in being far more lifelike than any self-respecting “cartoon band” has any right to be. Also, for that matter, a far bigger concert draw.
There was some noticeable elbow room here and there around the bowl at the 20,000-capacity Air Canada Centre for Monday night’s Toronto performance by the “fake” animated quartet — these days actually the very human ringleader Damon Albarn, a 12-piece ensemble featuring six backup singers and a handful of guest vocalists and MCs drifting in and out of the lineup as the moment warrants. That said, Gorillaz still commanded a thoroughly impressive and enthusiastic turnout for a high-concept stoner lark dreamed up by Albarn and his cartoonist pal Jamie Hewlett when they were flatmates 20 years ago.
Indeed, while those of us of a certain age might be tempted to chalk the size of the crowd up to lingering Blur deprivation on the part of the local Brit-pop audience, the reality is that there’s an entire generation out there raised on “Clint Eastwood” that probably had no idea what a Blur was in the first place. Also, Gorillaz — whose global commercial success long ago surpassed that of Albarn’s on-again/off-again “real” band — has maintained a fairly rigorous standard of quality over five admirably adventurous and eclectic albums now; those ’toons have a lot of badass tunes to pull from, and the ongoing (sort of) mystery as to who might or might not turn up to perform them live on a given night only adds to the allure of a new tour.
A new Gorillaz tour was, mind you, the last thing anyone was looking forward to after the project’s dodgy first live outing in 2002, a misguided affair that had Albarn and his collaborators (maybe) playing in silhouette behind a scrim upon which Hewlett’s characters Murdoc, 2-D, Noodle and Russel were projected. Fortunately, though, a lavish 2010 jaunt in support of third album Plastic Beach that sometimes boasted upwards of 25 musicians onstage (including half of the Clash and the late Bobby Womack) easily atoned for past sins and reset expectations rather high for the next outing — expectations which Monday night’s gig perhaps didn’t quite live up to, but which will remain up there for whenever someone coughs up the no-doubt-sizeable amount of cash required to underwrite the next ambitious Gorillaz excursion.
Monday’s Air Canada Centre appearance was only the second date on this summer’s tour in support of the recent Humanz album, and it showed. The sound was harsh and muddy for much of the performance and, while it filled out as the show went on, never really did the players onstage justice.
The pacing, too, was a little wonky, quickly adopting a meandering, noncommittally dubby tone after a strong start that had opener Vince Staples stalking the stage and firing off rhymes alongside Albarn for Humanz’ genuinely ascendant “Ascension.”
There were definitely sparks during the first half of the set — “Tomorrow Comes Today,” from Gorillaz’ self-titled 2001 debut, remains a keeper and Chicago house vocalist Jamie Principle and sidekick Zebra Katz lit the place up with a booming “Sex Murder Party” towards the midpoint — but it wasn’t until new tracks “Strobelite” (featuring another Chicago vocalist, Peven Everett) and “Andromeda” lit the place up with a proper jolt of house music that the party really got started.
From there on in it was all gold, from two killer appearances by sharp-tongued female MC Little Simz on “Garage Palace” and a throttling “We Got the Power” — wherein Simz easily upstaged the recorded version featuring Savages’ Jehnny Beth — on through a riotous encore that featured Everett nailing the gone-but-not-forgotten Bobby Womack’s part on “Stylo,” a meatier-than-meaty version of “Kids With Guns,” the predictably euphorically received “Clint Eastwood” and a nice Floyd-ian comedown with “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven” and “Demon Days.”
The flaws in the set were, ultimately, part of the charm, though. Gorillaz is, after all, a cartoon band. Technically, we shouldn’t even be able to see these songs live. It’s nice to hear the humans behind the music being so . . . human.


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