In what will probably now become a legendary appearance at Wells Fargo Theatre last night, Gorillaz brought out a Colorado crowd in its truest form -- Dads, ravers, white people with dreads, babies, bros, men in lobster costumes, girls donning wigs of every color, and, of course, dozens of people in captain's hats -- who all crashed hips and shot fists in the air as the real life and cartoon worlds of Gorillaz collided.
King Tubby came seeping through the sound system between N.E.R.D and Gorillaz' set, mellowing the mood before Snoop Dogg made a pre-recorded cameo from two giant screens hanging above the stage. Puffing out his chest in captain's garb for "Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach," Snoop Dogg's virtual lines were complimented live by Chicago's Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, twisting horns from side-to-side as they stomped across the stage. The lights came up an orchestra/band had filled every inch, dozens of musicians strategically placed in front of tall, light box letters spelling out "Gorillaz" in colors that would rotate through the rainbow within the course of the evening.
Then the great white belt hold-out, maestro Damon Albarn, appeared for "Last Living Souls," looking regal in a striped shirt and simple leather jacket. Flanked by legends Paul Siminon and Mick Jones in sailor costumes, Albarn immediately relished in the crowd's fevered adoration, waving and jumping about before being joined by Roses Gabor for the syrupy slow "19-2000." From the start, the show was a massive sensory overload, the audience often having to choose between watching the cartoons speed through ocean and desert and watching the dozens of real-life players entertaining front and center.
Bobby Womack was introduced for "Stylo" bringing the only complaint about the show to the surface -- a vocal mix that was a little off for most of the night, Womack and Albarn suffering the most from the drown out. But regardless, Womack's performance was admirable, playing off a cameo by Bruce Willis on screen. A wad of glow sticks flew out of the crowd as Albarn once again took center stage for "Melancholy Hill," priming for a blast of "Superfast Jellyfish" with De La Soul joining the massive party.
Whipping out a T-shirt-complimenting black and red melodica, Albarn brought the tempo down to a dub's pace for "Tomorrow Comes Today," feeding perfectly into a duet with Little Dragon of "Empire Ants." A musical interlude allowed for Jamie Hewlet's cartoon characters to interact in a backstage setting via the giant screens, before Albarn and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble once again took the spotlight for "Broken." Pharcyde's Bootie Brown appeared for "Dirty Harry" backed by a Hewlet-drawn children's choir, the cartoon kids poking and prodding at each other as their ghostly vocals intertwined with delicate synth notes.
"El Manana" wore on Albarn's voice a bit, but the explosive "White Flag" erased any missteps -- the American Syrian orchestra lining the back stage left was now highlighted, as rappers Kano and Bashy marched out. A giant flag was passed to an audience member who ran up the amphitheatre, sending the dancing crowd into a frenzy.
The ballad "To Binge," brought the darling Little Dragon back to the spotlight, Albarn and the fringe-banged girl embracing before he kissed her on the head and sent her off. Roses Gabor took the stage for "Dare" to duet with a virtual Shawn Ryder, and the set began to wind into its final turns. The musical interlude of "Glitter Freeze" highlighted two powerful drummers before the finality of "Plastic Beach" set in.
All house lights went low save for the Gorillaz logo that remained a bright blue, blips of spacey sounds continuing to chirp for a few moments in the darkness. Bobby Womack led the encore with the lovely "Cloud of Unknowing," soured only by the fact that the soulful vocalist addressed the crowd as Seattle, Washington -- not Denver, Colorado.
The eternally grooving audience took the slip-up in stride, Albarn reappearing to compensate the situation by screaming for Maseo and the rest of the De La dudes to join in for "Feel Good Inc." Saving the best for last, "Clint Eastwood" and "Don't Get Lost in Heaven" brought Bashy and Kano directly into the audience, the duo joining the crowd in their seats--literally--hugging fans and rapping from the theatre rows. Womack and Albarn sang back from the stage, the show coming to a beautiful close.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I have been in love with Damon Albarn since I saw Blur in 1995. He could do no wrong in my eyes. Thankfully, he didn't even come close. Random Detail: It looked like Albarn either had a grill in place, or his gold fillings were catching the spotlight nicely. By The Way: This may have been the best show of the year. How often does one get to witness De La Soul, Damon Albarn, Bobby Womack, and half of the Clash on one stage -- in Denver, Colorado, no less? I'm going to say never, other than through the good graces of Gorillaz.