Last Night: Gorillaz At Toyota Center

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Photos by Jim Bricker

Toyota Center
October 19, 2010

For more photos from the show, see our slideshow here.

Gorillaz may have overspent on their first-ever extended tour. True, the entire concept is that the group is officially made up of four cartoon characters, so there kind of has to be a visual component; in the past, the live-action musicians have performed behind screens while their animated avatars took center stage, as it were.

That's not quite the way it worked out Tuesday night at a half-full Toyota Center, though.

A giant video screen showed the adventures of 2D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russel - a desert car chase featuring Bruce Willis, a disembodied Matrix-like head, underwater escape from a pirate-besieged cruise ship, a helicopter battle in the clouds like Robotech meets Howl's Moving Castle - but as breathtaking as Jamie Hewlett's storyboards and animation were, they ultimately took a back seat to the retinue his Gorillaz co-creator Damon Albarn had assembled below decks.

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Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon
That would be four backup vocalists, a six-woman string ensemble, two drummers, a couple of keyboard players, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of the Clash on guitar and bass, and a never-ending parade of featured performers: Chicago's Hypnotic Brass ensemble, a group of Arab-American musicians, a diva introduced only as "Rosie," UK grime stars Kano and Bashy, ex-Pharcyde MC Bootie Brown, Asian chanteuse Little Dragon, soul legend Bobby Womack and conscious-rap innovators De La Soul.

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Bootie Brown and Damon
Oh, and Snoop Dogg, who kicked the whole thing off as virtual ringmaster on "Welcome to the World of Plastic Beach."

Somewhere in the middle of all that was Albarn, who had the unenviable task of steering this most motley crew through a 90-minute voyage - often, when he wasn't out front singing or rapping, from an anachronistic upright piano buried in the instrumental chaos around him.

In keeping with Gorillaz' latest album Plastic Beach, most of the onscreen animation had some sort of nautical theme, but it was ultimately much better realized in the music. First mate in this instance was Simonon, who supplied a steady throb of funk, disco and dub like he had just walked out of the Sandinista! studio yesterday, creating massive waves of rhythm for his shipmates to surf.

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