Gorillaz, Roundhouse, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Mos Def, De La Soul, Kano, Bobby Womack, Shaun Ryder – it sounds more like a festival line-up than a list of just some of those who make an appearance during Gorillaz's first full UK show for five years, but such is the power of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's creation. The fact that the group's three albums feature so many collaborators makes a full-blown tour a logistical nightmare, but when they do manage to get together it can produce a hell of a show.

With that line-up, and considering chances to see the Gorillaz experience are so scarce, if expectations are high before tonight's performance then the duo only have themselves to blame. They already set themselves a high benchmark in 2005 with their triumphant five-night stretch at the Manchester Opera House, which saw them play Demon Days (from the same year) in its entirety.

For this performance – one of two at the Roundhouse following the release of their third album, Plastic Beach – some of the stagier aspects of the Manchester production have gone. Given that Gorillaz are a virtual band, it has been a challenge for Albarn and Hewlett to translate their concept into a live setting. Five years ago, their answer was to make only the silhouettes of the musicians (including Albarn) visible, letting the guest stars take centre-stage.

There are no such visual tricks tonight. The procession of guests that takes to the stage may provide the focus, but the band itself remains fully visible. This new openness is to be welcomed, especially considering the identity of some of those whom Albarn has persuaded to play with him – there is a thrill for any music fan in seeing the Clash's Paul Simonon and Mick Jones playing together, swaggering around the stage wearing sailors' hats.

Albarn himself spends the night swapping between singing at the front, and his keyboard and microphone at the back, yet even when he is playing second fiddle vocally he remains at the heart of proceedings, and on the beautiful "On Melancholy Hill" his voice shines. Hewlett's contribution to the evening comes through the large screen hanging above the stage, which shows a mixture of video, animation and drawings, and the visuals manage to walk a fine line by being atmospheric without overpowering the music.

Rightly so, as the songs – almost all drawn from the last two albums – provide plenty of highlights, from the moment the bass line of "Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach" begins (with Snoop Dogg appearing on video rather than in person). "DARE", complete with Shaun Ryder, brings the audience to its feet, but one of the biggest cheers of the night goes to Bobby Womack, who recreates his primal vocals on "Stylo", assisted by Mos Def.

Another high point is "White Flag" which – after an extended piece from the Syrian National Orchestra – is propelled along by the energy of Kano and Bashy before culminating in a fantastic intercontinental clash of music styles. Gorillaz finish by returning to the band's beginnings, with a menacing and earth-trembling version of "Clint Eastwood", topping yet another night of success for Albarn.

Comments