Gorillaz, O2 Arena, London

Still going ape over the wild bunch

Holly Williams
Tuesday 16 November 2010 01:00 GMT

Gone are the days when Gorillaz hid behind their cartoon creations: Damon Albarn and his musical buddies now take centre stage. Well, they fill the entire stage, because there's an awful lot of them – guest vocalists range from a soulful Bobby Womack to old school rappers De La Soul via Mark E Smith and Neneh Cherry while musical accompaniment comes courtesy of The Clash's Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, and even The Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music.

A diverse troupe, then, but Albarn's musical melting pot cooks up some real treats. Hearing highlights from Gorillaz's three albums, it's striking just how many rock-solid hits they've produced. Old favourites, like the deadpan "Clint Eastwood" or funked-up "19-2000", may be dated by their simple 2-D cartoon videos, but they still sound surprisingly fresh.

New material from latest album, Plastic Beach, comes to life. "Glitter Freeze", featuring Smith's echoed-out vocals and whizzy electronic UFO noises, is enjoyably sinister. The quirky "Superfast Jellyfish", with De La Soul, is a highlight, as is another track they guest on: a blistering "Feel Good Inc", which sends the crowd bananas and sees Albarn and De La Soul's Maseo have a shouting competition up in each other faces.

But most impressive are surely the Syrian Orchestra. The six musicians play a traditional number before joining in on "White Flag". Their delicate, intricate melodies are accompanied by footage of a Sufi swirling, while grime stars Kano and Bashy get shots of a spinning breakdancer, and Albarn waves a huge white flag over the audience (it may not the subtlest of "the value of cultural exchange" messages, but the track is still a superb example of Gorillaz's musical pick'n'mixing).

Some guests can't make it. We have to make do with video footage of jungle-bound Shaun Ryder's head on "Dare", and while Snoop Doggy Dogg sings of a televised revolution on "Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach", we also only get a pre-recorded version of his flow.

Albarn dashes about throughout the gig, seemingly about to boil over with energy – he even gives a drum kit a bit of kicking on "Punk" – but remains gracious to guests. Bobby Womack is given deference for a heartfelt performance of "Cloud of Unknowing", prompting the crowd to get their lighters out, while Albarn and a cape-wearing, sparkle-shod Yukimi "Little Dragon" Nagano do a dreamy, dewy-eyed duet that ends with the pair on their knees, embracing. Finally, "Don't Get Lost in Heaven" begins with Beach Boys-esque pop harmonies, moves into falsetto flourishes from Albarn, before winding up as a rousing gospel number for a suitably celestial big finish.

If Albarn is a sort of conductor of this varied selection of artists, then he also proves capable of sweeping us along; the two-hour show flies by, is constantly engaging, bold, and with a lot of just great tunes. And while Jamie Hewlett's visuals, from witty montages to fantasy-band narratives, are still an important element, the real magic is happening on-stage.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in