Go Ape

Oversize cartoon primates sit still and answer questions

How does a two-dimensional cartoon band promote its album in a three-dimensional world? If the cartoon band is in the employ of Virgin Records, its human enablers sit on an improvised stage at the Virgin Megastore in Union Square on a rainy Thursday afternoon and answer inane questions from fans and DJ Mike, the Megastore's in-house party starter. (Week before last, on a Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow, I racked my brain trying to figure out who the dude bringing me ginger ales was till it hit me: Guerilla Black!)

In-store appearances rarely offer more than lessons in dodgy crowd management, but this one was particularly dire. With the exception of one track that sounds exactly like the Scissor Sisters, Demon Days, the new Gorillaz album, lacks the cheery anything-goes vibe of the group's debut, so, at a loss for things to get excited about, the crowd tossed non sequiturs at shades-wearing Blur frontman Damon Albarn, affable animator Jamie Hewlett, and Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton, who looked like he wondered if anyone realized he wasn't Dan "the Automator" Nakamura. One guy wanted to know what Albarn thought of Clint Eastwood, after whom the band has titled two songs. "Apart from his politics," Albarn replied, "he's a pretty amazing guy." One girl asked if the three had ever done any drugs. DJ Mike, getting a little free after playing slave to his legal pad, was curious what they thought about two of his favorites, Gil Scott-Heron and Bob Dylan. "A bit random, isn't it?" Albarn asked.

A few hours after the Virgin appearance the trio headed downtown to the matchbox-sized Kidrobot boutique on Prince Street, where a mix of comic-book enthusiasts, Soho hipsters, and at least one kid (not a robot, by the looks of her) on her dad's shoulders lined up to have their Gorillaz action figures signed. "They get a good buzz going there once in a while," said the proprietor of a shop across the street, and he was right: Albarn and his mates have mastered the art of the buzz, but they seem unsure what to do with it.

 
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