CAMDEN, New Jersey — Over the past decade, Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett have created something that goes beyond a musical performance with the Gorillaz. And when they performed on Sunday night's Escape to Plastic Beach Tour stop in Camden, New Jersey — joined onstage by a string section, a brass section, an Arabic orchestra and new bandmembers Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of the Clash — the group took the audience on a journey of sight and sound.
In their early shows, the Gorillaz's real-life members performed behind a screen as their animated characters took center stage. Now, they've reversed roles, and the band appears in person, with Albarn as its fearless captain and everyone dressed in nautical regalia, as videos of 2D, Murdoc, Noodle (and Cyborg Noodle) and Russel play on the screen behind them.
The concert played out as an experimental narrative, showcasing the tribulations of the group's imaginary members while inviting real-life artists who've collaborated on various Gorillaz records onto the stage. Camden's show was filled with cameos, including Bobby Womack, Mos Def, Bashy, Kano, Little Dragon, De La Soul and the aforementioned Jones and Simonon.
The set list pulled largely from this year's Plastic Beach, which boasts a calmer yet equally powerful sound than their previous work. But the night would not have been complete without their hits from the past 10 years. "Dare" and "Dirty Harry" kept the audience out of their seats dancing, but it was "Feel Good Inc." and "Clint Eastwood" that reminded the crowd of the sounds and sights that first attracted them to Gorillaz.
From "Clint Eastwood" to this year's "Stylo," the Gorillaz have evolved in every form of their being: Their animation, music and live performance have all grown, giving fans a pleasant surprise every time they get to hear them. What hasn't changed is the energy and fun.