“We are Gorillaz! We don’t have fans, we have family!”
So proclaimed Sweetie Irie as he took the stage for the final song of the evening, reprising his remix version of “Clint Eastwood.” For the last two hours Damon Albarn and friends turned the TD Garden into the city’s biggest dance club and it was fitting to go out on the song that really lit the fuse for the band. But there is another side to Irie’s statement too; while Albarn is the most obvious force behind the world’s most successful virtual band, the roster of guests that he’s been able to join in as collaborators is wide-ranging and star-studded.
Can you think of anyone else who’s been able to coax as diverse a list as this? Bad Bunny, Robert Smith, Mark E Smith, Kevin Parker, Carly Simon, Neneh Cherry, half of The Clash, André 3000- hell, even Stephen Colbert. For this tour, the live guests include Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara who lent her gorgeous vocals on “Désolé” and Bootie Brown was on duty for several songs including “Stylo” and “Dirty Harry.” De La Soul provided key vocals on “Feel Good Inc.” and got the crowd onto another level of bounce, and prior to that, support act EarthGang also returned to the stage for a punchy version of “Opium” from the latest record.
But there’s a new one on the horizon, and a few songs from Cracker Island made their live debut this tour and hey – they sound like Gorillaz songs! Albarn has long abandoned the BritPop structures of Blur and embraced a rhythm-heavy recipe that draws heavily from dub and hip-hop; one can draw a similar arc in the Clash’s embrace of Jamaican reggae and NYC hip-hop that radically changed their sound to Albarn’s aural transformation.
The bit about family not fans also rang true in other ways. Albarn took advantage of the stairs leading down to the barricade a few times, especially on “Kids With Guns” where he stood on the railing to sing to and with the crowd, occasionally leaning his handheld mic into the face of a willing participant. Not satisfied with that interaction, he worked his way down and around the barricade for an escorted venture that went about twenty yards deep into the crowd. Another gesture that wasn’t obvious to most of the crowd happened just after the regular set. From my vantage point far stage left, I could see Albarn amble down the stairs from the stage and stop at a roadcase to add some writing and/or artwork on a couple of posters that were then taken by the stage manager and given to two lucky fans in front. That feeling of inclusive joy wasn’t just limited to the people who got that special connection; everyone got a generous helping.
Atlanta hip-hop collective EarthGang got the crowd buzzing and banging early, their high energy set a perfect way to start the night.