Saturday Night: Gorillaz Drag Out De La Soul, Bobby Womack, Little Dragon, and More for a Cartoonishly Fun Halloween

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Calibree Photography
Gorillaz
N*E*R*D
October 30, 2010
Oracle Arena

Better than: Vomiting up a one-eyed octopus; also, seeing Gorillaz on not-Halloween.

What are you supposed to look at during a Gorillaz performance? 

Do you look at the band onstage, where a  group of humans -- including Damon Albarn, the Clash's Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, Bobby Womack, Little Dragon, De La Soul, a seven-piece chamber orchestra, two drummers, and a six-piece Middle Eastern band -- are performing what is occasionally some of the most interesting pop music made today? 

Or do you look at the giant screen behind the stage, where the "real" band, the cast of gangly cartoon characters that technically make up Gorillaz, explores underwater worlds, desert highways, culinary predilections, trashed green rooms, and an otherwise completely alluring cartoon world?

Saturday night at Oracle, we weren't sure where to put our eyes. We just knew the whole spectacle seemed to go by really, really fast.

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Calibree Photography
Not that it was short. Gorillaz blasted out 17 songs and a four-song encore, with most of those coming from the latest album, Plastic Beach, a masterpiece that takes the outfit's famous-contributor-casserole aesthetic to addictive new levels. Saturday night there were real, live members of the Clash performing the druggy dub of "Plastic Beach"; there was Little Dragon in a black cloak and sparkly tennies poised for the great beat-dropping climax of "Empire Ants"; there was Bobby Womack himself, belting out the groaning, throaty anguish of "Stylo," as our cartoon heroes drove through Bruce Willis' handgun fire on the big screen. There was a lot to look at.

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Calibree Photography
Albarn, the real captain of the night, hopped from speaker tower to speaker tower far at the front of the stage, clad in a red-and-black-striped shirt and white facepaint, with dark circles around his eyes. He taunted the crowd from every corner. He harassed the backup singers. He hopped up and down like a madman. His rapper-loose pants nearly fell to his ankles several times. You could tell he was having fun. And mixing punk, dub, hip-hop, techno, and pop onstage has to be so much more fun than Blur, the by-the-rulebook Britpop band that Albarn fronted for his last real job.

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Calibree Photography
Gorillaz' amazing collaborations don't always carry its songs; at its worst, the band's music is little more than a drum-machine beat with a famous vocal on top of it. (Or even just a semi-famous vocal -- see Bobby Womack's "Cloud of Unknowing" ballad near the end, which carried the arena only through the eerie footage of WWII planes shooting each other down.) The lack of some of the albums' famous voices on Saturday's stage -- most notably Lou Reed and Del tha Funkee Homosapien -- also meant we didn't get to hear "Some Kind of Nature," one of the new albums' best tracks, and that "Clint Eastwood," when it finally came during the encore, sorely missed Del's irreplaceable swagger. 

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Calibree Photography
But complaining about a concert because Lou Reed didn't perform is like complaining about a baseball game in which Babe Ruth didn't play. For the most part, the sonic-and-visual combo of Gorillaz performance proved absolutely arresting. The massive sound at Oracle brought out every detail in Gorillaz songs -- even with two drummers, a brass band, three keyboards, and rappers going crazy onstage. You could have closed your eyes and still enjoyed the hell out of it.

Critic's Notebook

If you didn't know it was Halloween: the Jack-o-lanterns around the stage -- which appeared to be cut to resemble the Gorillaz' characters faces -- were your reminder; also, masks aplenty on the faces of the instrumental ensembles. Albarn and other members painted their faces like zombies.

Hand-slapping-forehead moment: The numerous audience members dressed up as members of Gorillaz -- in captain's hats, striped shirts, and dark jackets -- had a great idea for an easy, cool halloween costume.

Best costume: Two dudes on Bart dressed as Will Kane and Tim Lincecum pulled it off better than anybody I saw all weekend: hilarious wigs, full uniforms, names on the backs of their jerseys, everything.

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Calibree Photography
What was she on?: This girl in front of me bounced like a nuclear rubber band throughout the entire show -- jazz hands in the air, furiously mouthing the words to all the songs to her date (who didn't look amused), and generally behaving like a muppet on speed.

Regional bias: It kind of sucks that L.A. Gorillaz fans got to see Lou Reed -- and New York ones got Mos Def, too -- but we didn't get either one of them.

Personal bias: But frankly, of all Gorillaz collaborators, I missed Del the most on Saturday -- if only for his awesome rapping on "Clint Eastwood."

Opener: I arrived on Saturday just as N*E*R*D was ending. Please tell us how Pharrell and Co. did in the comments.

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