Gorillaz Swing Across the United States
By: George Varga
Many musicians strive for success, artistically and commercially. Damon Albarn is one of the few who places a greater value on failure.
“I think everything I’ve done is a failure, in the sense that I haven’t totally realized what I was setting out to do, and that’s what keeps me going,” said Albarn, who this week concludes an extensive North American tour with Gorillaz, his eclectic all-star band. “I learn through failure, and I want to learn as much as I possibly can.”
That being the case, Albarn qualifies as one of pop’s more successful failures.
As the leader of Blur, he helped define Britpop in the early 1990s, when his band helped capture the zeitgeist for millions of young people in the United Kingdom. But Blur never made much impact here.
Not so the multimillion-selling Gorillaz, which Albarn and “Tank Girl” cartoonist Jamie Hewlett launched in 1998 as a purely conceptual project.
Yet, what began as a “virtual band” of cartoon characters — a sort of post-punk Traveling Wilburys in anime — gradually morphed into a live band, following an abortive attempt to have Gorillaz “tour” in holographic form. As its April show at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival attested, Gorillaz’s music is now on equal footing with its eye-popping visuals.
“Ironically, for something that is/was virtual, it has become very organic,” Albarn said, speaking from a tour stop in Houston.
“But it is still the relationship between the cartoons and the band, the musicians, that is very integral to how the audience perceives it.”
That band also covers far more musical ground than Albarn ever did with the recently reunited Blur.
Hip-hop, funk, reggae, rock and World Music fuel Gorillaz, whose current touring lineup features two former members of English punk-rock icons The Clash — guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon — along with American R&B legend Bobby Womack.
Also on stage at various parts of each Gorillaz concert is veteran New York hip-hop trio De La Soul, Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Swedish electro group Little Dragon, veteran Pharcyde rapper Bootie Brown, London singer Roses Gabor, British rappers Kano and Bashy, and members of the Middle East-based National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music.
“I pinch myself,” Albarn said of his heady musical company. “Constantly.”
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