Damon Albarn is a gracious man. During Gorillaz’s two-hour headlining set Monday night at the Patriot Center, the animated band’s real-life frontman generously shared the stage with a variety of guests. Rappers Mos Def, De La Soul and Bashy were there, as were singers Bobby Womack and Yukimi Nagano; a horn section; and a small group of Arab musicians playing traditional instruments. Albarn wasn’t brooding or annoyed with having the limelight yanked from him; instead, he boogied with the rest of the packed crowd while letting the others do their thing.
There was a lot of boogying, but it came slow. Opening act N.E.R.D tried to invigorate the crowd, delivering singles “Lapdance” and “Rock Star” with two drummers, two backup dancers and other inexplicable people taking up space. But whether it was N.E.R.D’s mega-volume or the crowd’s unfamiliarity with its tracks, a steady stream of people left the arena during those 45 minutes, taking laps around the Patriot Center’s lobby instead of sticking around. Sorry, Pharrell.
After N.E.R.D wrapped up, it was a mad dash back to the seats as setup started for Albarn and co. By 8:30 p.m., a humongous screen fired up video of the animated band illustrated by British cartoonist Jamie Hewlett. Countless cell phones were whipped out to record a clip of bassist Murdoc assuring fans, “Won’t be long now, won’t be long now.”
The screen never went dark, and fans never calmed down. After Murdoc’s entreaty, a video starring Snoop Dogg as a top hat-wearing pirate welcoming everyone “to the world of the plastic beach” upped the ante, and when Albarn, and former Clash members Mick Jones and Paul Simonon (who reunited while recording Gorillaz’s “Plastic Beach”) took their places alongside horn and strings sections, the place exploded.
The crowd literally jumped during opener “19-2000,” which featured London singer Rosie Wilson in a kaleidoscopic sweat suit and found Albarn ricocheting from speaker to speaker, urging the audience on. The crowd swayed during “Last Living Souls,” which had a dub feel against video clips of zombies walking through a desert. And everyone lost it during “Stylo,” the band’s first single from “Plastic Beach,” featuring Mos Def and Womack. As Mos Def, decked out in a snazzy suit and sailor hat, rapped in Albarn’s face, Womack goofed around with Simonon. Beaming grins were everywhere. It was hard to tell who was happier — the performers or the crowd.
Whether the band was showing its introspective side on “On Melancholy Hill” and “Tomorrow Comes Today,” or its jauntier side on “Rhinestone Eyes” (during which Albarn had a dance party all by himself on top of a stack of speakers), it genuinely seemed like everyone was having the time of their lives. With so many different people coming onstage and working together on tracks — rapper Bashy with a group of Arab musicians on “White Flag” and Mos Def with the horn section on the magnetic “Sweepstakes” — there was no room for egoism. Everybody got along, and for audience members, the outcome couldn’t have been better.
There’s no way to put on a Gorillaz show without the band’s most popular singles, and when Albarn, Jones, Simonon and the rest of the crew came back onstage for a four-song encore including “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc.,” the night reached its apex of awesome. With members of De La Soul laughing maniacally and Albarn leading a mass sing-along, the crowd was united. “Feel Good Inc.,” indeed.
Written by Express contributor Roxana Hadadi
Photos by Kyle Gustafson for The Washington Post