Video Reviews
Demon Days: Live at the Manchester Opera House
by Grant Gee, David Barnard
Parlophone (2006)
Demon Days: Live at the Manchester Opera House
4 / 10
From the beginning, Britpop survivor Damon Albarn and Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett’s “virtual band,” Gorillaz, has had one fatal flaw—a cartoon band made up of fictional rock stars, by definition, cannot perform live. Since their self-titled 1999 debut, the “band” has made several attempts at translating the madcap fun of their music videos to the concert stage. Early tours variously involved musicians hiding behind screens, larger-than-life video projections of the characters, and updated versions of “Pepper’s Ghost,” a 19th century magician’s technique.

Demon Days Live is the group’s most recent—and perhaps penultimate, if Albarn’s recent statement that he’s dissolving the band holds true—attempt at bringing “the Gorillaz experience” to a live audience. After the success of Gorillaz’ Grammy-nominated sophomore effort, Demon Days, Albarn and Hewlett reckoned that audiences would be willing and able to ignore the pretense that the band’s music is actually created by Murdoc, 2-D, Noodle, and Russel. For Demon Days Live, the 80+ musicians, singers, rappers, and chorus members involved in the making of the record came together at the Manchester Opera House, without masks, obscuring screens, or puppets, and played the album straight through. Hewlett’s visuals were projected on a screen above the stage, and the erstwhile “leaders” of the cartoon band, Murdoc and 2-D, appeared in a balcony box to heckle the show Statler and Waldorf-style. Guest stars included a children’s choir, Neneh Cherry, MF Doom, Ike Turner, Bootie Brown, Roots Manuva, and Martina Topley-Bird. All came bursting out of the stage wings like birthday surprises to deliver their vocal contributions.

Live, I’m sure this was all really amazing—though revealing the musicians behind the Gorillaz pretty much deflates the band’s entire concept. Demon Days is a complete song cycle with a natural flow, and it’s interesting to see who sings what. But the presentation of the show doesn’t translate well to DVD at all. Albarn, along with many of the other principle musicians involved in the project, remains in silhouette throughout the performance—possibly because he views Gorillaz as a chance to step out of the limelight he burned out during his Blur years—but he’s also placed prominently in the center of the stage, suggesting that he’s the star of the show. You can only stare at silhouettes for so long before it becomes visually irritating. What’s the value of watching a live concert if you can’t see anything?

The music is as good as ever. “Dare” features ex-Happy Mondays singer Shaun Ryder, having more fun than he’s had since the 1990s. “Last Living Souls” and "Kids With Guns" possess a verve and vitriol not heard on the album versions. But the show doesn’t really satisfy until the encore, when Albarn finally steps out of the shadows to take a bow and acknowledge all the other “men behind the curtain.” He delivers a lovely version of benefit single “Hong Kong,” accompanied by an elegant Chinese zither. And then he’s gone.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be disappointing if Albarn hadn’t spent most of the 90s manically pogoing around on stage like a theatre nerd on PCP. But he did, and it is. The DVD’s extras, thankfully, include all of Jamie Hewlett and Zombie Flesh Eaters’ visuals for the concert, which you can view while listening to the live tracks. This would be good to put on at a party, as Jamie Hewlett is 100% zombie-flesh-eating goodness. Other than that, even die-hard Gorillaz/Damon Albarn fans have no reason to own this DVD.
Posted by: J. Bowers

Video Reviews (May 16th, 2007)