BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
The concept of Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz was a truly novel thing when constructed in the late-‘90s with artist Jamie Hewlett.
The glory of MTV – as a visual medium – was rapidly diminishing, so the arrival of a cartoon band (Murdoc Niccals, Noodle, Russel Hobbs and 2-D) was both amusing and creative.
Their first two albums, “Gorillaz” and “Demon Days,” released in the early ‘00s, garnered some attention in the U.S. with “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc.” But the band’s biggest success was reserved for Albarn’s native U.K.
The band has always toured sparingly, and the last time Gorillaz ventured to North America in 2010, Atlanta was not part of the itinerary.
That changed Wednesday night when former Blur leader Albarn, joined by a dozen musicians and singers including keyboardist Mike Smith, guitarist Jeff Wootton, bassist Seye Adelekan, keyboardist Jesse Hackett and drummers Gabriel Wallace and Karl Vanden Bossche, brought a mélange of alt-pop-hip-hop-rave-rock to Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth.
Though Albarn’s echo-y vocals were mostly impossible to discern over rocketing bass, that didn’t seem to bother the sold-out crowd, many of whom used space on the general admission floor to dance and twirl blissfully.
A Gorillaz performance is as much a multimedia show as a concert, and fans reacted rapturously to every appearance of a Gorillaz character on the giant video screen lining the back of the stage.
Following a set from Virginia rapper D.R.A.M. – who guests on Gorillaz’s current “Humanz” record – the band kickstarted their set with the caffeinated “M1 A1” from their debut album.
A combination of trippy lights, crashing cymbals and a finger-snapping groove steered “Every Planet We Reach is Dead,” followed by the image of 2-D playing piano to introduce “Sleeping Powder,” which soon segued into tight funk.
Throughout the show, a blue-ish haze colored the stage, making it difficult to tell who was singing or playing. But fans knew from the first notes of “Some Kind of Nature,” when Albarn moved from his center stage spot with either a guitar or melodica to slip behind a keyboard, that what they were hearing was a rarity live.
Albarn clasped the microphone with both hands while he emoted the moody, somewhat droning ballad “Busted and Blue” as cell phones lit up the arena; but he immediately returned to rock singer form for “El Mañana,” roaming the stage and smacking his right leg with his hand.
The Gorillaz tour has been known for its surprise guests – Pusha T, Anthony Hamilton, Jehnny Beth of Savages, among them. This date, however, stuck to tour regulars, including Zebra Katz, Jamie Principle and Peven Everett, who dashed between the columns of white lights shooting out from every angle of the stage during the soul-rocker “Strobelite” and goofily played up to Albarn and his keytar.
Gorillaz might not possess the same uniqueness of nearly 20 years ago, but they’ve managed to maintain their mystique – which, in this shareeverythingeverysecond world, is commendable in itself.