Beer and Loafing in Zooropa

Gorillaz: Demon Days Live
Apollo Theater
Harlem, New York
4 April 2006


I had a special plan in mind for 4 April 2006. I was going to see "my band," U2, perform in Tokyo.

This wasn't going to be "just another Matt following his band" trip. The 4th of April is my birthday and on the 2nd my dad would have turned 80, but he passed away in January. This was going to be a trip in the name of catharsis, to clear my head and start looking back to the future, so to speak. A trip for the soul.

Alas, the very day I put a courtesy hold on airfare to Tokyo, U2 announced the postponement of the last 10 dates on the tour due to an illness in the U2 family. I consider it yet another bonding experience with "my band." The past 15 months have had dramatic highs and lows on the personal front for all of us.

So. There I was in need of a new plan. That was a Wednesday night.

It just so happened tickets for Gorillaz at the legendary Apollo in Harlem were to go on sale that very Friday. And they were to perform on 4 April.

I've always held an interest in Gorillaz; I got a freebie DVD sampler way back when from Tower Records that had their video for 19-2000 and I was captivated by the music and the video's unique approach, done in the style of Japanese anime. Those crazy characters stuck with me and, as fate would have it, I bought my first Gorillaz album, G Sides, while on assignment in Atyrau, Kazakhstan (to the best of my detective skills, it doesn't look to be a bootleg).

I remember getting an e-mail when the Apollo dates were announced and being "disappointed" that I'd be in Tokyo at the time. So I was pretty giddy when Friday rolled around and I went straight to TicketMaster's link for the 4 April date at the very moment tickets went on sale. BOOM. I grabbed a seat in Row C. I was hoping that meant the third row, but you never know. Maybe that meant third row from the back.

Then I bought airfare to New York City, the birthplace of so many Mattopian ideals. From there, the trip took on a life of its own, as all good trips do.

Pride (In the Name of Love)

Gorillaz at the Apollo

Once upon a time, Billie Holliday - the Angel of Harlem - performed at the Apollo. Now I was about to see demons, or more precisely an album entitled Demon Days, take the spotlight on one of the world's most famous stages, perfomed live by the ultimate Gorillaz "cover band."

Going in, I knew nothing about what had gone down in Manchester last year, other than it was phenomenal.

I was a little disconcerted, then, when the pre-show music that evening focused exclusively on Bernard Herrmann's film scores - one can't mistake the striking themes from Psycho and Vertigo. Even though Herrmann was born in New York City, it was an odd choice to use his greatest hits as mood music.

It was even more odd when the giant screen in front of the stage curtain started showing a Looney Tunes cartoon, the one in which Daffy Duck tries to convince Porky Pig he really is Robin Hood. OK, I told myself, Gorillaz are an animated band, after all. So there's some sort of loose connection there.

Then there were the puppets of 2D and Murdoc up in the balcony. They cracked ribald jokes that would make Statler & Waldorf blush, but they are, after all, rock stars. Technically, the puppets were well done, but I still wasn't sure what Damon Albarn was up to.

Then the curtain was lifted and everything changed.

The creative energy on stage, on screen, and even in that balcony with the puppets became an overpowering force and the evening provided a fantastic rush of good karma.

By my count, there was a 25-piece band, including a full string section. The shallow stage was backed up by seven large screens plus a central screen running clips of everybody's favorite anime band.

And then there was Albarn, in silhouette at the piano, rear of the stage.

As one song rolled into the next, an enormous host of talent graced the stage. Neneh Cherry (Kids With Guns), Ike Turner (Every Planet We Reach Is Dead), the Harlem Gospel Choir, a children's choir, De La Soul; it was a constant parade of talent. As a rough total, I figure there were close to 100 different performers during the course of the show.

Whoa! There was even a Chinese zither in use during Hong Kong.

This wasn't just a "concert," this was a special event, a performance of expression via just about every conceivable avenue. This was pure creativity unleashed, from Albarn's low-key outfit to Jamie Hewlett's extravagant graphics. It was a floodgate toppled by positive energies and synergies.

Dirty Harry featured a couple dozen kids who clearly were born to be on stage; these kids were into the groove big time and they put a spark in the crowd. They're destined to be the next angels of Harlem.
Absolutely taking charge of the place were De La Soul when they stormed in during Feel Good Inc.; a powerful, forceful performance of absolute bravura. Hey, they're Long Islanders who know how to get a crowd jumping and shouting, especially in their own backyard. Down in the second row (yeah, Row C means the second row at the Apollo), I was one of the loudest, finding the catharsis I was looking for and ready to shout it out.

Going in, I considered myself a fairly casual fan; going out, I was a convert whose respect for Albarn has gone through the roof.

I've since seen the DVD from Manchester and I've gotta say this Apollo show topped that one. Particulary Feel Good Inc. and Dare. Those two are forever etched in my mind as prime examples of sublime performance perfection. No amount of technology, not even the finest in high definition cameras, could capture the energy that was on stage that night in Harlem.

Rosie Wilson was so luscious in a simple red top and blue jeans, combined with the ultra-frisky, mint-sucking Shaun Ryder (of The Happy Mondays), they brought a new emotion and high to Dare. It's one of several songs that I had glossed over while listening to the album. Having heard and seen them perform their song live, it's skyrocketed up my playlist. As a whole, the entire album has now taken on new meaning and new power. It's sensational.

So on 4 April 2006 I didn't see U2 live in Tokyo. Instead, I saw one of the best concerts - if not the best - I've ever been to that did not involve Bono. Having seen quite a roster of talent - The Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Garbage, Starsailor, Alabama 3, Moby, and on and on and on - that's not an accolade I bestow lightly.

In need of catharsis, I got it at the Apollo. And the lyric from Demon Days has now taken on the rapturous meaning that Albarn always intended but I, until that night, had not grasped:

In these demon days, it's so cold inside, so hard for a good soul to survive
You can't even trust the air you breathe, because Mother Earth wants us all to leave
When lies become reality, you numb yourself with drugs and TV
Lift yourself up, it's a brand new day, so turn yourself 'round
Don't burn yourself, turn yourself - turn yourself around into the sun!

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