On the night of November 3, 2010 at the Rogers Arena I did not know what to expect. I agreed to review the concert of N.E.R.D and Gorillaz. However, I wasn’t sure how the night would unfold for someone who only knew a few of Gorillaz’ songs. It turned out to be one of the best and most memorable nights of my life so far. Okay, so maybe it was the best night of my life because KillahBeez got to meet and interview N.E.R.D. before the concert. Nevertheless, the evening in all was life-changing and eye opening. I’ll tell you why.
Two drum sets, two electric guitars, one keyboardist, two dancers and three on the mic. N.E.R.D was ready to fire things up. Without hesitation N.E.R.D. busted out to “I Wanna Jam” off their newly released record. It is most definitely a song meant to be performed live. After “Sacred Temple” Pharrell took a moment to thank everyone present for liking different music and that “God Bless Us All” was written for their good friend in the industry who was going through a difficult period in his life, for all the victims of gay bullying and for all those going through though times. He shouted, “This is your testament!”. Shortly after a few numbers the crowd began to warm up to N.E.R.D. and people stood up and bobbed their heads.
Mega-producer Pharrell briefly explained the history behind the creation of “Hypnotize U” with Daft Punk and said he knew he just had to do it when he first heard it. And I’m so glad he did because it is one of my favorites off the album. Next up was “I’ve Seen the Light” and “Hot and Fun” which my feet always tap to without my consent. Of course N.E.R.D. wasn’t about to only perform tracks off their new album. You better believe they took a blast to the past with “Lapdance” and “Rockstar”.
N.E.R.D. has always been about creating different sounds, going beyond rock and hip-hop without being defined and restricted by genres. This is reflected in Pharrell’s perspective on life when he shares: “We like different music. Maybe it’s not cool wearing bright shoes. Maybe it’s not cool to watch Discovery channel sometimes. Maybe it’s not cool to go to Comic Con [….] But I like you much better this way because you guys are individuals. Let’s celebrate individuality. We’re going to jump for all the times we were pushed down. Jump back up at those people. ‘Cause Canada can change the World. Vancity can change the World. Don’t you know you can change the World…”. So we did what we believed and we jumped in celebration of our individuality to N.E.R.D.’s last song which I wish I took note of because this is what happens when you have too much of a good time and lose focus.
The Grammy award winning British band led by Damon Albarn showed me, for the first time, what a real concert is supposed to be. With twenty members including backup singers and those who played instruments involving strings, piano, drums and keyboards, it’s no wonder the show was a musical explosion. The Gorillaz opened with “Welcome to the World of Plastic Beach” featuring Snoop Dogg dressed as a pirate, rapping on the jumbo screen but very much part of the concert. The screen played all the music videos in sync with the live performance but who the hell is watching that when you’ve got Albarn bouncing off everything his feet could possibly touch. Bobby Womack walked onto the stage for “Stylo” with so much swag it was hardly bearable. Oh and look, Bruce Willis in the music video. Not random at all. What World am I in?!
Over the course of three songs one can already easily hear the varying influences of hip hop, rock and electronic goodness. There is no one way to musically identify with Gorillaz. There are thousands. I realize during “Superfast Jellyfish” that the fictional Gorillaz characters, as designed by talented Jamie Hewlett, serve to represent the identity of the sounds that cannot be explained with words. The virtual band is as successful as they are today because they project themselves into the World as a fantasy among the reality and as something that cannot be touched but only wholly appreciated through our senses. This is what music should be. Without promoting the real faces behind Gorillaz they are able to enter the lives of people without any preconceived notions. I’m onto something here!
Albarn always gave center stage and the spotlight to the featured artists (yes, they all made it except Snoop!). I mostly enjoyed Yukimi Nagano’s angelic voice of Little Dragon in “Empire Ants” and “To Binge” with her cute little sideways shuffle dance like a crab. A band of seven men with trumpets and horns of many sorts joined the stage for “Broken”. Then for “El Manana” there were another five to add to the orchestra. At this point I am convinced Gorillaz takes up an entire plane when touring. Albarn enlightened us with the story of how Gorillaz came about to making music with the National Orchestra of Arabic Music. Coles Notes: it came out of seeing past race, hospitality, acceptance and love for music. My heart filled with warmth as they jammed to an Arabic piece.
I imagined all my highschool friends that ever played in band would appreciate this concert for all its instrumentals. “White Flag” featuring Bashy and Kano was a true testament to music knowing no boundaries. Albarn jumped into the audience and ran around with the hugest flag I’ve ever seen a single human carry while an Arabic dancer twirls nonstop on the big screen. Gorillaz ended the show with “Plastic Beach”. But I knew it wasn’t the end. And I knew everyone else knew it wasn’t the end. And I knew Gorillaz knew I knew that everyone else knew that it wasn’t the end.
We didn’t have to wait too long for Bobby Womack to come waltzing back onto the stage with his bad self singing soulfully as ever to “Cloud of Unknowing”. The song followed up with what put Gorillaz on the map for me – “Feel Good Inc” with De la Soul and Booty Brown. I shit you not, the laugh in the beginning and throughout the song is exactly the same and executed sounding natural. And just as naturally the whole room sang along during the chorus, “ah-haha-hahaaaaa”. The show sadly ended for real with “Clint Eastwood” and “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven” mixed with “Demon Days”.
During this night there was a strong sense of unity I’ve never felt before. Maybe it was the genuine enthusiasm from the fans. Maybe it was the mixture of people taking part on stage. Maybe it was the magical element that Gorillaz are able to just simply play music from the heart without having to worry about which expectations to fulfill and which style they should be categorized in. I witnessed many things that night and that’s the possibility of the sound of music seeing no color, understanding no race, noticing no hate and knowing no limits. If it’s anyone who can display and practice this message to its greatest degree it is Gorillaz and N.E.R.D.