Gorillaz and N*E*R*D live in Vancouver [Photos/Review]
Vancouver, B.C. – It was quite a night as LiveNation presented both N.E.R.D. and Gorillaz to a packed Rogers Arena. The crowd was treated to all forms of digital… from beats to animated characters, it became clear how deeply technology is affecting the musical landscape, and how beneficial that integration can be when done right.
N.E.R.D. started the night off with Pharrell, Shay and Chad in front of a live band – including no less than two drummers – as well as a couple of vivacious dancers. “I Wanna Jam” was an appropriate opening track, followed by a few others from the new album Nothing. The new album – called Nothing because apparently the band had to wipe out the recordings and start from scratch on it – is a danceable blend of new sounds and familiar Neptunes styles which any N.E.R.D fan can get into. “God Bless Us All” slowed things down a little as Pharrell dedicated the sentimental track to “every human being that’s gone through something,” and noted the problem with bullying in schools.
In fact, Pharrell talked about quite a few poignant and pressing issues: the man and consumerism, the celebration of individuality, the collective self-esteem…and of course women came up in the course of things as well. “She Want to Move” is an older track from Fly or Die, and definitely one of the band’s more popular classics: this led well into the new single “Hypnotize U,” a sexy Daft Punk collab that was recorded at George Harrison’s studio in London. The Nelly Furtdao collab “Hot n Fun” made its appearance, followed by a revisit of In Search Of…, N.E.R.D’s first album. “Rock Star” led into “Lapdance,” which broke down and sprawled out across Pharrell’s ironic lesson as he commanded the crowd to jump together in support of individuality.
Gorillaz built some anticipation: a string ensemble in sailor outfits were the first to sit down, playing beautiful string strains until Snoop Dogg appeared on the giant screen, opening with “Welcome to the World of Plastic,” introducing not only the show but the new album Plastic Beach. Gorillaz are a concept group, based on a comic-style narrative created by former Blur frontman Damon Albarn and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett. The narrative was woven into the show in many various ways…from high speed car chases involving Bruce Willis and the animated characters, to short skits, to highly surreal lyrical content.
Touring with Gorillaz this time around is an impressive line-up: De La Soul, Bobby Womack, Bashy and Kano, Little Dragon and Roses Gabor all contributed, not to mention former members of the Clash, the Hypnotic Brass ensemble, a string ensemble and a Arab-American band. Each song was a moment to savor – from the sweet sad “Empire Ants” with Little Dragon, to the sparse and haunting vocals of Womack, to the mellow synth of “Meloncholy Hill.” De La held it down with “Superfast Jellyfish,” a bouncy number typical of their lighter, fun style, and Kano and Bashy brought some gritty raps to “White Flag.”
Through Gorillaz, Albarn proves just how deep his genius runs. As the leader of this movement, he’s reminiscient of a big band leader, bringing back a classic variety show which weaves a fascinating narrative through each and every song. The multimedia experience was both inspiring and a little jolting: one can never really be prepared for that kind of sensory stimulus.
Photography by Tyler Simpson