[live review] Gorillaz and N.E.R.D at the Agganis Arena

Gorillaz got it right last night. With my only prior conception of their live show being a couple of reports from early summer festival stops and an appearance at the 2006 Grammy's, I was rather trepidacious heading into their Agganis tour stop. Sure, the performance with Madonna was cool at the time. But with a movie being released next week where Steve-O will undoubtedly get kicked in the balls in 3-D, technological wonderment doesn't pack nearly the same punch as it did four years ago.

So instead of rolling out a technicolor dog and pony show, Damon Albarn laced up his boot straps, hired a world-class backing band, and turned out a set that properly focused on the lush stylings ("Stylo" if you will) of his most recent Plastic Beach. Because who really needs the ‘Queen of Pop' when you have half of ‘The Only Band That Matters' in your lineup.

And while Mick Jones and Paul Simonon (and Bobby Womack and De La Soul and...) were certainly something to behold, Albarn never let us believe that we were witnessing anything but his band. Whether bouncing on the barrier at the front of the stage or crooning behind his piano, he maintained complete audience captivation throughout, which is doubly the difficult feat when backed by a giant movie screen projecting cartoons. Gorillaz have always been noteworthy for their uncanny ability to traverse genres with ease and Albarn conveyed this in the live setting to a tee. From cutesy (with Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon during "To Binge") to crunk (with De La Soul during "Feel Good Inc.") to triumphant (on the show closing run of "Don't Get Lost In Heaven" into "Demon Days"). There isn't much more evidence needed than last night's show as to why it isn't an overstretching crime to lump him in with the greatest frontmen of all time.

In a similar breath of highly versatile/dazzling performers working today would have to be Pharrell Williams, who opened the show with his N.E.R.D ensemble. When you have an opening slot of this caliber, there are really two routes you can take: hype the crowd beyond sane recognition, or use the exposure to force feed the audience your new material. Unfortunately, N.E.R.D spent a majority of their set doing the latter. Quite the shame considering I've seen this band opening for Jay-Z and they delivered on a rousing warm-up. And this isn't saying the new material isn't up to par. It's quite sultry and seductive (peep the go-go dancers in the video above), but not exactly the stuff I was trying to hear in that time slot, especially considering absolute bangers like "Rock Star" and "Everybody Nose" went unplayed.

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