The fandangle was kicked off admirably with Little Dragon, who acquitted themselves well in the thankless ‘opening/folks shuffling in’ slot. With their bass, drums, keys and vox, lithe line-up there’s no doubt that they would be absolute fire to see in a club scenario doing a full length set, and I can only hope that happens down here and soon. As I’ve also found with their records its kind of a 50/50 affair for me, the first two tracks were well solid, finishing with Twice was inspired, but the middle.. didn’t move me so much. Love the fact that they weren’t afraid to let the tunes work up an instrumental head of steam, and every one of their songs had something to love about it at some point. Good band and an ideal choice for the tricky kick-off. (This is why I never write live reviews, I’m starting to feel like I’m a judge on some loathsome TV talent-less contest… anyways.. moving along).
We booked for De La Soul – seen them too many times, not a favourite live act for me (no my hands are not going in the air, and I do not identify with everyone on my side of the cavernous venue) and besides stomachs was rumbling, and Love A Duck was calling.
Returning a little sweeter and sourer, we had just enough time to stand in a needlessly long queue to be served a rip-off bottle of water before it was time for the Gorillastravaganza.
You can find the songs they played and various bits of misinformation (a melodica is NOT a harmonica, not even a very big Gorillaz sized harmonica) elsewhere, but in the broadest terms this was the proverbial, and downright metaphorical, bomb. With Jamie Hewlett on board, and the whole virtual band conceit now sitting in a comfortable position, there’s no surprise that the visuals were beyond top notch. Mind you, when you’ve got Rear Admiral Snoop Dogg welcoming one and all from the get-go on the big screen, and brandishing a telescope to boot…you know this isn’t messing about. I’d probably go as far as to say that was the best visual accompaniment I’ve ever witnessed at a ‘big gig’, and it was a real juggle between getting caught up in the animation, WWII fighter footage and (genuinely amusing and successful) visi-interludes, and the on-stage palaveration.
The players were outstanding from the 7 piece femme strings section at the back, and sporadic synchronised stage invasions from the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, through to the dynamite double drummers and a raft of keyboard and elsewhere geezers and geezettes. Then there was Mick Jones mincing (in the best possible way) around the stage, and looking like he was having the time of his life, and Paul Simonon vamping with the bass like his very existence depended on it. It’s been … ahem 28 years and change, since I’ve seen those two gents together on stage, and I never expected to again. Really that would have been enough to do it for me, without the Clash there would be no Stinky Jim (or not as we know it), and Albarn gets my undying respect for doffing the cap back to those times in a genuinely sincere and un-cloying way. Maybe I’ve got my idealistic Clash goggles on from back in the day, but it really felt like Jones and Simonon were on stage for the right reasons, not some celebrity bullshit – their enjoyment was palpable and the whole way that the star studded nature of the show was dealt with (we’ll get to the hugging in a minute) was genuine and humble.
Which brings us to Damon Albarn, the obvious thing would be to say ringleader of the circus or whatever, but that’s lazy wank and doesn’t do justice to a show that dealt knowingly with, and to, cliches. Even from our seats at the back where binoculars would have been handy, Albarn’s personality, and boundless enthusiasm for this bizarre project, that has finally become wilder than even he could have hoped or dreamed, was obvious. As his career goes on, he just becomes more and more of a class act, in every sense.
It was similarly blindingly obvious how much passion has gone into the Gorillaz and putting this show/tour together, and there was a fair deal of emotion, with this being the last night of the tour, and almost undoubtedly the last time all of these people can be bought on one stage in one night. So a few too many man-hugs perhaps but this wasn’t the usual series of fake-offs and manufactured gestures, it felt real, it felt honest and those who weren’t stirred by that… well as we used to say… long walk/short pier.
My personal highlights were undoubtedly the two most unfeasibly murderous tracks from Plastic Beach (chances are you’ll hear me playing ’em at the Minx on Thursday should you be around, they tend to get a run most weeks) that being the title track and To Binge, the gorgeous waltzy duet with Little Dragon’s Yukimi. White Flag, had the Syrian Orchestra casting a spell (you could have heard a pin drop) before Bashy & Kano erupted onto the stage, that was pretty much perfect. Mick Jones played the drunk uncle at the bar mitzvah in Golders Green to a tee during the gobsmacking instrumental intro -it could have been cheezy – it could have been culturally insensitive, but like everything else on a very special night, it was sheer delight. Bobby Womack still has it and seeing him on stage really brought home how Damon Albarn is furthering and pushing the interests and possibilities of his ‘pop’ audience, just like four blokes called The Clash did with idiots like me 30-something years ago.
Elsewhere some parts were refreshingly messy, others very much choreographed, or at least the end product of a 3 month, gentlemanly paced tour. It felt human and proper, able to fall apart or go up another level at any point, and it’s hard to imagine anything coming close in terms of combining spectacle with heart and soul and some killer songs.
I take my hat off!
Thanks to Nance for sortings, and all involved for a night none of us will be forgetting in a hurry.
(oh yeah and the Vector still sucks ass in every way imaginable just about, and the sound was pretty shabby – on another night that could have been a major deal breaker)