By now, two multiplatinum albums on, explaining Gorillaz is exasperating. Even the puppet in the balcony (the same one that later simulated fellatio) said, “We’re a puppet version of a cartoon from a band called Gorillaz.”
Of course. Undulated and humming just below a jumbo screen featuring Jamie Hewlitt’s illustrated visual counterpart to Damon Albarn’s orchestration, their Demon Days performance was equal parts talent show, laserium, prophesy, and revival.
The visuals extend the already haunting vocals of Albarn, animating his distant post-apocalyptic and muted distress: Whether it’s a floating island populated and captained by one tortured girl or a pile of trash propping up a stately crow with tangled barbed wire, the imagery is dark, not disturbing. On stage the 20 to 30 musicians (Harlem gospel choir, children’s choir, Julliard strings) were silhouetted and operated en masse, like a Rube Goldberg machine. Albarn hid behind layers of musicians, attacking a baby grand with jazzman tenacity. The only faces acknowledged were guest vocalists, resurrected from forgotten places: Neneh Cherry, De La Soul. And Ike Turner, in silk pajamas, punctuating his piano solo by sitting on the keys. Clearly Albarn recruited lost souls; how else do you explain Happy Monday Shaun Ryder sucking on a lollipop and his mic?
Albarn emerged for the encore “Hong Kong” backed by a Chinese zither. All of a sudden, when their puppet master appeared forlorn and premonitory, the Gorillaz got less animated. But the swelling violins, stomping feet, and reaching limbs still made apocalypse feel good.