Gorillaz at the Apollo

Animated sans animation
By WILL SPITZ  |  April 10, 2006

There were puppets, singing and dancing middle schoolers, a gospel choir, a 14-piece string section from Juilliard, a who’s who of guests, including Neneh Cherry, De La Soul, Ike Turner, and a lollipop-sucking Shaun Ryder. But no Jamie Hewlett animations?! You’d think that at a major concert event like Gorillaz’s “Demon Days Live” five-night stand at the Apollo in Harlem, any and all technical issues would be ironed out in time for opening night. But before the show two Sundays ago, as the crowd started to get antsy, wondering what the holdup was, Gorillaz’s musical mastermind Damon Albarn took to the stage to apologize to a theaterful of people who had paid $85 each to be there that “some of the visuals” would be absent from the show. (And by “some” he meant “all.”) Pretty wack for a project based on the concept of a “virtual” cartoon band. Judging by Internet chatter, night one was the worst of the lot; after the second show, one blogger even compiled the “Top Five Reasons Why Tonight’s Gorillaz Show Was Better Than Last Night.”

Whatever. After a slow start — the first few songs found Albarn and his 20-piece-plus band shaking off some opening-night jitters and the sound engineers scraping the murk off the mix — things picked up, and by the end we had almost forgotten that we’d sorta been hosed. Highlights included a spirited version of “Dirty Harry” — there’s nothing like a crew of clapping kiddies harmonizing on lines like “I need a gun ’cause all I do is dance” to bring a crowd to its feet. The otherworldly “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven”/“Demon Days” closer was even more goose-pimply live than on the album, Albarn’s falsetto sounding better than his normal voice did all night, especially when contrasted with the muscular harmonies of the Harlem Gospel Choir. The band re-emerged for an encore, the Chinese zither–driven “Hong Kong,” but it felt a bit anticlimactic after Demon Days’ denouement, which was truly stirring, even sans animation.
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