Numerous critics and closed-minded fans have been less than kind about cartoon supergroup Gorillaz’s decision to play live shows hidden behind large projector screens displaying comic images of the characters. But the minor agony of journalistic slings and arrows is nothing compared to headaches the band experienced right before the tour launched in Toronto on February 23.
“We lost our original bass player on the first day through something slightly dubious that happened 15 years ago,” said vocalist Damon Albarn, who also fronts the band Blur. “Basically, he’s in prison now. But fortunately, at the 11th hour we found a guy named Roberto (no last name, please) who kind of saved our asses.”
“We were introduced to him by some people who knew a good bass player, and we needed one very quickly,” added Gorillaz cartoonist Jamie Hewlett. “We were very lucky.”
Strangely, Albarn is the only performer on the Gorillaz album who takes the stage every night. Producer Dan “The Automator” Nakamura spins before the show but doesn’t contribute to the set, and artists Del the Funky Homosapien, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, Miho Hatori, Ibrahim Ferrer and Skye Edwards are nowhere to be found (see ).
“Everyone’s busy doing their own thing,” Albarn explained. “Gorillaz isn’t about celebrity, but it works and it takes on an identity of its own. As long as the sound of the person [playing] is right, it doesn’t matter what they look like. The fact that they’re all 80-year-old musicians in wheelchairs is irrelevant,” he joked. For Albarn, being out of the spotlight means the music has to speak for itself. He can’t count on riling the crowd with irreverent comments or rousing it by jumping, kicking and climbing, as he often used to do with Blur. And that’s just fine with him.
“When I first started [playing with Blur], people always used to criticize me when I shut my eyes and I just loved singing. So I’m able to do that again, which for me is really an enjoyable thing,” he said, adding that his current creative endeavor has been more physically healing as well. “I enjoy being a frontman, but [in Blur] I tended to have to get really drunk every night because playing to a crowd can be rather nerve-racking. Now I don’t have to get as drunk anymore, which is good.”
Gorillaz only have a few shows left, including a pair in Los Angeles March 8 and 9. If you’re curious about the cartoon-rock phenomenon, but figure you’ll catch them next time after some of the hype has died down, you’ll probably miss the boat. At this point, Gorillaz have no intention of playing any additional shows.
“Gorillaz shows are very expensive to put on,” Hewlett said. “So we can’t be touring for six months at a time.”
“I’ve done that,” Albarn cut in, shaking his head. “I’ve done it and I don’t need to do it anymore. I’d rather spend a month of the year touring and 11 months making music. I love playing, but I don’t need to tour to earn my living. When I tour it’s just for pleasure.”