Gorillaz brought a version of that on-of-a-kind live performance to South Philly Thursday night as part of their brief North American tour.
Way back in 1998, longtime singer of English Britpop Damon Albarn joined forces with English comic book artist Jamie Hewlett to create a virtual rock/hip hop group called Gorillaz. The “official” members of the band are all fictional characters. They include 2-D (lead vocals, keyboards), Murdoc Niccals (bass guitar), Noodle (guitar, keyboards), and Russel Hobbs (drums and percussion. But, of course, the actual music you hear on all six of the band’s albums is composed by real human beings, and so is the show’s live performance. Gorillaz brought a version of that on-of-a-kind live performance to South Philly Thursday night as part of their brief North American tour.
The real-life human band featured a variety of performers, including a drummer, percussionist, guitarist, bassist, five or six background singers and Albarn who sung, but also played guitar and piano at various points throughout the night. Albarn interacted with the crowd often, engaging them up close at the edge of the stage and at one point meandered his way around the audience as paranoid security guards followed him around.
But the virtual band was featured on an LED backlit screen behind the stage, which featured the animated members complete with their yellowed teeth, blacked out eyeballs and foam green skin. A simple gaze into the crowd of those in attendance proved two things. For one, many of the people who come to Gorillaz concerts look like the cartoon members of the virtual band (this might be on purpose or by coincidence. We don’t know.). The second thing you notice, quite simply, is that it looked like whoever booked the tour may have expected more people to show up. The audience consisted of 13 mostly full lower sections of the Wells Fargo Center, plus those standing on the floor. That’s it. The mezzanine level was completely empty, as were the sections behind the stage. It would have made more sense to hold the show at a smaller venue like the Tower Theater or perhaps the considerably smaller Festival Pier, which is where Gorillaz performed just last year. It looked as if a few thousand people showed up to the performance, which is a lot for a concert. But putting the show in an unnecessarily large arena proved to make for a weird vibe. But given the looks of the cartoon band, perhaps that’s what they were going for.
But onto the most important part: the music. The music was great. You shouldn’t let the band’s off-putting aesthetics fool you, the musicians on stage performed an exciting mishmash of rock and rap music, a genre that is often butchered by flat-brimmed-hat-wearing bros like Limp Bizkit and their ilk. In fact, once you learn to find the groove of the Gorillaz’ music — which doesn’t take very long — the visuals begin to make sense. It’s good, catchy music, yet it is still maintains a sleazy vibe, matching the personalities of the virtual band members. The band, which has been around for 20 years, is certainly no longer a new thing in the world of music. But there’s always going to be late bloomers. Those people who may have yet to experience Gorillaz’ live performance or discography should know that while the experiment may sound bad on paper, it works in practice. You should try it. Maybe you can fill some of those empty seats.