Image Credit: Taylor Hill/FilmMagic.comLou Reed might have been the only person in all of Madison Square Garden who did not crack a smile at the Gorillaz concert last night. As a legendarily curmudgeonly rock deity, Lou’s got a reputation to uphold. Scowling is his thing. But virtually everyone else in the arena, especially Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn, burst out in un-self-conscious glee when Reed showed up for a mid-set cameo. The guest of honor ripped through a harsh, metallic guitar solo; recited the lyrics to “Some Kind of Nature” off a sheet; unleashed some more screeching White Light/White Heat–style feedback at the end of the song; and raised his arms in a curt victory sign. It was spellbinding. Albarn wrapped him a slightly awkward hug before he moseyed off stage.
Reed doesn’t sing very many hooks on dance-pop-hip-hop albums, to say the least. The fact that someone like him would contribute to Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach earlier this year and appear in person last night speaks to how much respect Albarn’s fellow artists hold him in — either that, or Albarn is the world’s most preternaturally persuasive charmer.
One way or the other, he lined up a constant stream of more cheerful luminaries to join Gorillaz at Madison Square Garden last night. Mighty soul man Bobby Womack belted out a couple of tunes. Mos Def, De La Soul, and the Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown represented two generations of left-of-center rap. (Mos, in keeping with the evening’s nautical theme, wore a purple cape, a cane, and a sea captain’s cap.) Miho Hatori of sadly defunct art-pop weirdos Cibo Matto squeaked through “19-2000,” pleasing old-school Gorillaz heads like myself. And so on, and so on.
Two of the biggest stars on hand weren’t even guests: Albarn somehow talked the Clash’s bassist Paul Simonon and guitarist Mick Jones into joining his permanent touring band this year. Every so often Albarn would go stand by them and grin even wider, as if he couldn’t believe he was actually jamming with half of “the only band that matters.”
As cool as it was to see all those heroes sharing a stage, last night’s show would have been pretty awesome without them. Most everyone in the crowd was dancing by the end of the show, carried away by the irresistible combination of animator Jamie Hewlett’s trippy visuals on a big screen with Albarn’s omnivorous beats played live. Albarn himself was in top form, leaping, pogoing, and punching the air during the up-tempo numbers, then sitting at a piano to croon the ballads in that world-weary melancholy way of his. Gorillaz began as a jokey idea in Albarn and Hewlett’s London flat; 10 years later, they are legitimate pop stars who can headline major venues like Madison Square Garden. Three cheers for a world in which that can happen.
Were you at the Gorillaz concert last night? Have you seen them (or do you plan to) elsewhere on this tour? Let us know what you think!
(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix)
More on The Music Mix: