By James Currie
Last night, English musician, Damon Albarn brought his ‘Song Machine Tour’ to Chicago and played to a packed house at United Center showcasing one of the largest group of musicians he’s every assembled for a live performance. Albarn, accompanied by, at its peak, 22 other musicians, literally filled the stage with more man-power than a Ford assembly line. Gorillaz, a manufactured virtual band created by Albarn and comic artist Jamie Hewlett almost 25 years ago, have grown the home studio group from the duo to a multi instrumental conglomerate that has seen an ever rotating lineup of today and tomorrows hit makers from the Rap, Alternative and World music scene.
United Center was filled to the banners with fans who they’ve amass in the past two decades. This tour highlighted Albarns talents not only as a singer-songwriter, but performer and multi instrumentalist who can rock a guitar as much as a giant magical horn. Albarn bounces from song to song taking command of an almost endless supply of gear that included acoustic guitars, pianos, horns and key-tars. This on top of his singing and crowd interactions kept him and his band busy for over two hours playing through tracks from their early singles of the late 90’s (M1 A1) to songs from their soon to be released album, ‘Cracker Island’.
We got a mix of hits, which mostly held off until the end, but included ‘Feel Good Inc’ and ‘Clint Eastwood’. During this performance we were treated to a barrage of guest performers. Chicago’s own, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble join Albarn and Co for ‘Broken’ and ‘Plastic Beach’. Openers, Earthgang helped out with ‘Opium’. A debut from Peven Everett took place during ‘Strobelite’. The classic ‘Dirty Harry’ and ‘New Gold’ was done with Bootie Brown. During the encore De La Soul joined in for “Feel Good Inc’ and Sweetie Irie helped close the night with ‘Clint Eastwood’.
Tonights performance was perhaps the most rocking live Gorillaz performance seen as Albarn really filled the sound with so many bandmates and backing vocals, it was like a traveling soul review with a rockin’ modern edge complete with Albarn’s trademark samples, electronic beats and witty lyrics. The fullness of the band made for a house that responded like no other.
Albarn really seems to relish the spotlight. He honestly seems to care about his fans as the stage was lower to the ground more than usual and he walked out to great them many times, often times embracing them in crowd dives, hand locks, high fives and even taking cell phones from them and singing into the digital nuances.
This tour is different that past ones. The addition of the large band, special guests and reworking of tracks live makes for a more satisfying experience. The comic virtual band playing on the back wall video screens worked better than back in the day when Albarn and Co played hidden from the audience behind screens and low light letting their avatars take control. This was a good mix of live and virtual environment. It truly was an experience to see and hear live. I highly recommend seeing this tour if they come through your town.
For more on Gorillaz, click here
For photos from the Chicago show, click here