Knowingly, Damon sings: "Everybody's here with me..." at the start of "Tomorrow Comes Today", and he ain't kidding.
The rolling Gorillaz roadshow is such a huge production that it's perfectly conceivable that Albarn's running it at a loss. If so, all credit to him, because it's really rather excellent.
It took me a very long time to warm to Gorillaz. I never thought much of (Jamie Hewlett's previous work) Tank Girl in the first place, and the central conceit of the Gorillaz project – "woo, they're a virtual band, you see?" – and the coyness about the identities of the participants was indulged all too readily by an uncritical media, wilfully ignoring the fact that the cartoon pop group gimmick was nothing new (The Archies, The Jackson Five or even Cleopatra comin' atcha).
Tellingly, Hewlett has said in interviews that he's "so fucking bored" of drawing the characters, which is good, because I'm equally bored of seeing them. Now rendered in live-action faux-flesh with scarily convincing sweat and stubble, Murdoc, Russel, 2D and Noodle are a relatively non-intrusive presence these days, the running gag being that they're locked in the dressing room while a tribute band (i.e. the "real" Gorillaz) hog the stage.
Quite a contrast from the first Gorillaz gig I saw, where the humans were hidden by a screen. Tonight, Damon's shamelessly upfront, leaping about, pogoing like he's trapped inside the "Song" video, and waving a giant white flag for, er, "White Flag". This is the Plastic Beach tour. I may be mistaken, but I take the band's third album title to be a reference to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a real-life plastic Sargasso of marine litter, whose metaphorical value is dual: Gorillaz are, at the same time, lamenting ecological horrors and celebrating the collision and fusion of "trash" from different cultures.
It's represented onscreen by rapid-fire trash culture imagery, flickering between gaudy food packaging and sea creatures. It's also echoed, of course, by the human pick-and-mix of collaborators onstage. For starters, you've got half The Clash (Messrs Jones and Simonon) looking like they've stepped off The Love Boat. You've got soul deity Bobby Womack dressed as either a retro train guard or an American Civil War conscript. You've got rappers Rootikal, Kano and De La Soul (who roar gleefully through "Feel Good Inc"); Swedish-Japanese singer Yukimi Nagano (of Little Dragon); frizz-quiffed Brit newcomer Daley on forthcoming single "Doncamatic" (whose melody has more than a touch of "One Nation Under A Groove"); the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music (who get some brain-boggling polyrhythms going on instruments you've never heard of); not to mention a Treme-style brass band in bad-boy hoodies.
Inevitably, your inner spoilt brat sulks over the names who don't show. The absence of Snoop Dogg is understandable, and he does a great run on film as a top-hatted pirate captain on paranoid look-out. "Glitter Freeze" goes ahead without Mark E Smith, who is missing presumed down-the-pub. Shaun Ryder isn't there for "Dare" which is titled, so urban legend has it, because the Mondays man couldn't pronounce "there". But at least he has an excuse, been forced to share a jungle camp with dreadful seed-pedlar Gillian McKeith (see opposite).
Of the performers present, the outstanding star is Womack, notably on the Kraftwerk-goes-Blaxploitation of "Stylo". I'd die happy if he sang his own "If You Think You're Lonely Now", but his solo rendition of "Cloud of Unknowing", set against vintage footage of aerial war carnage, is almost as moving.
The unsettling countenance of Leon Botha, thought to be the world's oldest survivor of progeria, floats in blackness on a big screen, blinking in slow motion. For ages. From the very start, you know Die Antwoord are not the average hip-hop act. This initial view is vindicated as the Cape Town trio emerge dressed, in turn, as a hyena (Ninja), a gorilla (DJ Hi-Tek) and a miniature boxer (Yolandi Vi$$er, who enters in a cowled cape which she'll later exchange for a silver snood that makes her look like a mini-Gaga).
Die Antwoord ("The Answer") are a foul-mouthed rap-rave trio who claim to represent "Zef" culture, which would appear to be, roughly speaking, a Seth Efrikan equivalent of "chav-tastic" or "ghetto-fabulous".
There will be plenty who fret over whether the whole thing's a joke, especially given the track record of Ninja, aka serial prankster Watkin Tudor Jones. They're the losers here, because Die Antwoord are a riot regardless. To say Ninja and Yolandi make an odd couple is an understatement. He: prison-quality tattoos, scowling demeanour, rough as a badger's behind. She: munchkin-sized, helium-voiced, to call her "elfin" would belittle elves. It's a thrill to find out that her insanely squeaky voice isn't the result of any techno tweaking.
Even if Die Antwoord weren't one of the rudest bands on earth, they'd sound like it. Afrikaans sounds obscene anyway, and its similarity to English – "fok this", "fokken that" - leaves little to the imagination.
And the phrase Umthondo weSizwe on "Evil Boy" (an anti-circumcision number in Xhosa) is a breathtakingly irreverent pun: it means "Penis of the Nation". Umkhonto weSizwe means "Spear of the Nation", and was the name of Nelson Mandela's armed wing of the ANC. But when they mess with other people's tunes, it gets really messy. Bronski Beat's "Hit That Perfect Beat" is turned into an eight-minute sex-change porno epic, while Enya's "Orinoco Flow" is desecrated as a song about masturbation.
As Die Antwoord disappear for the Southern Hemisphere, I don't know quite what I've seen, but I do know it was fokken mental.
Simon Price gets tribal with a Bow Wow Wow/Adam Ant double bill, then chills with Chilly GonzalesReuse content