We floated up to a lonely, futuristic island comfortably suspended above the blue ocean. The atmosphere was bubbly and cartoonish. A handful of silhouetted violinists who filled the air with background music had to compete with screams and cheers as we got an aerial tour of our new home.
Then, the live brass section blasted into the open with a familiar figure projected onto a gigantic screen, as we were greeted by Captain Snoop Dogg, who gave us our “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach.”
Wait, back up. Where the hell was I again? Oh yeah. Watching Gorillaz on the night before Halloween at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, the United States of America, planet Earth. But to everyone inside that arena, we were at the Plastic Beach; which seems to be a strange sort of ugly but blissful post-apocalyptic representation of the world.
The date only added to the feel of the show. Jack o’ lanterns rested on corners of the stage and a good deal of the crowd was dressed up as everything from the cast of The Hangover to Damon Albarn himself.
After this surreal Snoop Dogg intro, Damon Albarn (the real one) and the rest of the live band took to the stage in their signature punky-sailor get ups of leather jackets, nautical striped shirts, and cocked sailor hats. Keeping with the eerie theme, Damon had his face painted as a zombie.
Gorillaz kicked off their set by asking us the question, are we the “Last Living Souls”? From there we were taken on a voyage through this silly, crushing, paradoxical little world. I was taken to near tears while on “Melancholy Hill” with songs like “Broken” and “The Cloud of Unknowing” – which was backed by World War II footage and belted by Bobby Womack in a pimp costume. At other moments, the arena busted into dance with bangers like “Superfast Jellyfish” and giddy classics like “19/2000.”
The live production itself is a bit of a mind-blowing extravaganza. They’re a real band posing as an animated band, whose live show is a live band just representing for an animated band. Yeah, I know.
That fact coupled with the amount of people on stage (usually 16+ people), the small but largely powerful live orchestra, the guest appearances (two members of the clash who are permanent members of the live band, Yukimi Nagano, Bobby Womack, De La Soul and a rhythm group from the Middle East), the cinematic background videos, and the overall all flow and quality of the musical performance made this show one of the best I’ve ever seen.
I hesitate to even call it a show. It was a modern day symphony, a multimedia display of musical talent, power, and passion packed with sublime messages and overt entertainment. The contradiction between the animated visuals and the authenticity of absolutely live, unsampled music of their show is something completely astonishing, relevant, and unrivaled.
They played for over two hours, and I never once was not captivated and completely enthused. Judging the crowd comments, most people felt the same. The theme was Plastic Beach, but they seamlessly fit in older key songs like “Clint Eastwood”, and “DARE”. Damon even managed to compliment the Bay Area on its social consciousness, which was of course warmly accepted. Even a five song encore didn’t satisfy the seemingly moved crowd of thousands.
But really, I think Damon Albarn described the night best around midset before the Middle Eastern rhythm group the arena lead into a symbolic “White Flag.”
“Tonight obviously, has been completely marvelous.”
Top 5 Overheard Crowd Quotes:
5. “Dude, they’re straight jamming.”
4. “OH MY GOD.”
3. “I’m gonna cry.”
2. “This is unreal.”
1. “How long do these tickets last for? I don’t want to leave.”
1. Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach
2. Last Living Souls
4. On Melancholy Hill
6. Rhinestone Eyes
7. Superfast Jellyfish
8. Tomorrow Comes Today
9. Empire Ants
11. Dirty Harry
12. El Manana
13. White Flag
14. To Binge
16. Glitter Freeze
17. Plastic Beach
18. Cloud of Unknowing
19. Feel Good, Inc
20. Clint Eastwood
21. Don’t get Lost in Heaven
22. Demon Days