Demon Days



19-2000. 2001
ROCK IT. 2004
DARE. 2005

Directors: Jamie Hewlett,
Peter Condeland,
& Dan the Automator

Directors: Cass Brown & Mat Wakeham

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Demon Days Live The jewelbox for the Gorillaz dvd Demon Days: Live at the Manchester Opera House shows one of the cartoon bandmates, 2-D, which is definitely misleading. This "live" performance by the virtual band begins with a "Lost Living Souls" performed by the actual guys who voice the animated band, but not the animated band. The performers are seen only as silhouettes so as not to contradict the well-constructed image of the band that has been established by animation, comix, & puppetry.

This March 27, 2006 concert can be annoying for anyone who wanted to keep the animated images of the band in mind.

Though potentially dissappointing for animation fans & fans of cartoonist Jamie Hewlitt, on the other hand, it's good to know that it's not all purely studio mix & Gorillaz' music can be performed live (more or less; some of it is certainly recorded & not "live" at all).

Through the various numbers we do catch glimpses of the human band members but mainly they're kept in the background as shadows only. In the foreground are sundry & numerous musical guests of the Gorillaz, putting on one hell of a great show.

The Manchester children's choir supplants the Demon Days studio album's Childrens Choir of San Fernandez on "Dirty Harry." The kids are somehow more thrilling than guest lead, rapper Booty Brown.

The audience is obviously enthused when Ike Turner comes out for "Every Planet We Reach is Dead." Dennis Hopper reads the text for "Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head."

There are other guests & much else that is pleasant enough including a reprise of "Hong Kong" from an earlier album, & Swedish girl hiphopster Neneh Cherry out front on "Kids with Guns." Damon Albarn (usually the voice of 2-D is himself kind of exciting even just as a silhouette in the back.

The closing song in Spanish "Latin Simone (Que Pasa Contigo)" is sung with a recording of Ibrahim Farrer (1927-2005) who was no longer alive to participate in the live concert. This number was from Gorillaz' debut album, & reprising it in this context with Ibaham on the film screen was a very moving tribute.

The most winning performance is guest lead Shaun Ryder on "Dare." In the 2005 video Shaun is shown only as a head kept alive artificially, a typical bit of Gorillaz-macabre. To see him actually live on stage singing this excellent song is shocking in its beautiful ugliness, as he really is one of the most beautiful ugly men on earth, with the voice of a fallen angel.

Rosie Wilson also performs on this number, a pure sweet voice providing a heavenly counterpoint to Shaun's demonism. In the video she's supposedly doing the falsetto voice of Gorillaz's girl lead guitarist, Japanese pre-teen Noodles. "Dare" is the greatest thing Gorillaz has done since their debut of "Clint Eastwood," & it's also the most exciting to see performed on the live album.

Clint Eastwood But the essence of the band is not to be found by watching the actual humans behind the animation. The studio musicians & singers are essentially playing characters in short films, & our beloved virtual bandmates have real existence as much as do Mickey Mouse, Homer Simpson, or Spongebog Squarepants. Watching these four guys in their videos is the best way to appreciate them.

Their defining video is Clint Eastwood (2001) which starts off with a vocalization of a famous cry from The Good the bad & the Ugly (1966), then picks up a beat of absolute pop appeal.

2-D comes center stage to sing "I'm happy, I'm feeling glad/ I got sunshine in a bag/ I'm useless, but not for long/ The future is coming on," which will be repeated as a chorus between the mad spiritual rapping of Russel (Booty Brown of course).

If you know the band's fictional back-story, you realize that Russel's rapping "spirit" is the ghost of Del, who was murdered in a drive-by, & now possesses Russel. This is why when Russel does rapping a blue phantom seems to issue from him to do the rhymes.

Dirty HarryThrough the "upbeat" song, an army of giant apes rampage & dance across the ruins in pursuit of Murdoc fleeing with his bass guitar over a storm-beaten landscape. The balance of beat, beauty, & horror is the true signature of Gorillaz.

Following up on Clint Eastwood is Dirty Harry (2005) with the Gorilliaz half-clad as soldiers in a desert, performing with a chorus of scared children, & driving about in search of the enemy.

Rapper Booty Brown as a live-action warrior is worked into the animation. The shell-shocked faces of the children's chorus are satirically marvelous, but in general this isn't one of the band's stronger videos. It's actually a more appealing number as done "live" on the Manchester concert album.

El Manana The video Feel Good Inc. (2005) opens with 2-D looking shellshocked (but doesn't he always with his Li'l Orphan Annie eyes) & whimpering a beat, then beginning a very dark stage performance that will soon turn into a ballady love song for a windmill.

Cut to Noodle sitting on the ledge of a floating island powered by a windmill as propeller. Between rapped nightmares we revisit a lonely small paradise in the sky.

Noodle sits on the island ledge high in the sky playing her guitar. When the schizophrenic number is completed, we glimpse helicopters pursuing the flying island, & that can't be for the sake of gentle favors, a very worrisome way to end the piece.

The sequel El Manana (2005) revisits Noodle on the flying island singing the lyrics "no one knows me" as the helicopters bomb her private paradise. She takes cover inside the burning windmill, more in sorrow than fear as the island sinks beneath the clouds, plummetting into the earth where it's further bombed by the victorious war machines

This video shocked Gorillaz fans who like to believe in the characters as living real people. Coupled with clues from other videos & lyrics, it appeared that the war authorities really had killed Noodle. It had to be clarified in Murdoc's book Rise of the Ogre (Riverhead Books, 2006) that Noodle was acting, & she'd actually parachuted to safety.

19-2000 For 19-2000 (2001), the bandmates hop in their rocket dune buggy to race over the highway, jump a raised bridge, being pursued by a meaner-than-ratshit flying saucer. 2-D & Noodle take the main lead vocals. Murdoc arms the vehicle to take out a moose but being a dumbshit he blows up the band's car. They're only a little charred.

It's an okay song despite one of Gorillaz most self-consciouisly "youth" catch-lyric hooks from 2-D: "It's the music that we choose." No one would've chose this one if not for the line that's not so obvious: "Get the cool. Get the cool shoeshine" from Noodle, who at the time only spoke Japanese & may or may not have known what she was singing, but that's some catch-lyric.

It's a mildly funny cartoon, perhaps too much resembling a video game which is only good if you can play it.

This video exists in two versions, 19-2000 (Soulchild Remix) being paced more quickly. I prefer the original which among other things has the feeling of Noodle's part being stronger.

Tomorrow Comes Today (2001) has a rushed feel to it, a "limited animation" piece made out of photos with drawings of the bandmates superimposed. There's a bit of real animation of 2-D singing this first Gorillaz release, & that's enough to make it quite winning, as the poky downbeat song itself is very pleasant, with a great harmonica-like electric organ lick to it.

DareThe video for Dare (2005) shows Noodle visiting the room where Shaun Ryder's giant head is kept alive with wires & tubes attaching him to machines.

Noodle is obviously a mad scientist in her spare time! When she first opens the lab door & says hello to Shaun, it's just so endearingly sicko sweet. Russel makes a guest appearance reading on the pot reading the paper.

Shaun's head sings beautifully, assisted on vocals by Noodle (who, by the by, is my favorite Gorilla). This is one of Gorillaz' best numbers of all time, & Shaun's head singing "Never did no harm! Never did no harm!" while living punishingly has monster-movie splendidness to it.

It ends as a bad dream Murdoc was having about being Shaun's sweetheart, dreaming of Shaun dreaming he's a giant head. Very witty.

Rock ItRock It (2004) begins with an image of the four-winged demon from The Exorcist films, then shows 2-D singing "I'm feeling blah blah blah blah" in a raining hail of heads.

2-D & bandmates are crossing a weird landscape; 2-D is carrying Noodle on his back, since she's just a kid. They tread on puddles of heads, & periodically 2'D's face is superimposed on the demon-face of singin' Pazuzu.

This is not their most exciting video, but it's still nice, with visual references to Terry Gilliam animation. Its primary release was as a video orginal available only at the official website.

A similarly stripped down video is Rock the House (2001) begins with a bit of Tiajuana Brass type licks that turn into a beat for the Blue Phantom rap while the monkeys dance. Only a little of the Gorillaz qua Gorillaz are seen, Murdoc using his codpiece as a tennis racket being the main bit, closing with Russel at his drum kit "coming to" after he's finished projecting the Blue Phantom.

Celebrity Take DownThe videos Clint Eastwood, 19-2000, Tomorrow Comes Today, Rock the House are gathered on the compilation dvd Gorillaz Phase 1: Celebrity Take Down (2002). The many extras are highlighted by a half-hour comic documentary ostensively about the band, Charts of Darkness (2001), but really a satire on how creators, singer songwriter Damon Albarn & cartoonist Jamie Hewlitt, slowly lost their minds & identities as the band became more real than themselves.

Among miscellenous stuff we get the storyboards strung together to give the gist of the unmade video for5/4, from which it's hard to judge whether it's any great loss that it was never made, but kind of looks like it's not. There are storyboard versions with different sound mixes for a couple of the finished videos too.

"Gorilla Bites" are cartoons generlly less than a minute long, & these are among the extras: "The Eel" in which 2-D fails to kill an eel, but Murdoc gets it right, concluding with a worthless pun. Much better "Game of Death" as Noodle's karate takes down the enormous Russel, while 2-D & Murdoc pretend Noodle & Russel are their video game.

"Jump the Gut" has Russel sleeping in the road & the Blue Phantom comes out of him while he's asleep, making a bet with Noodle over 2-D's ability to leap over Russel's fat stomach speeding up a ramp in a tricycle, mildly amusing. "Hey Our Toys Have Arrived" has 2-D complaining that his new action figure moves its head in a way his own head can't move, so Russel proves his own head can move that way after all. Plus a short interview mainly with 2-D on the set of filming the video 19-2000.

There are two "Gorillaz Live" performances of the hologram versions of the band, both for "Clint Eastwood," one with Asian rappers doing the Blue Phantom's raps. A number of extra songs are included without videos but with pictorial accompaniments of one kind or another, including a few minimally animated bits.

Slow Boat to HadesThe best of the extras may well be the mainframe computer's narration of a tour of the band's private rooms & Kong Studio rooms also acessible at their official website. The computer seems to have gone AI with a split personality & fantasizes killing the band members, & does not in general think all that highly of them. It's a very funny cartoon & a lot more substantive than the Gorilla Bites.

The videos Rock It, Dirty Harry, Dare, Feel Good Inc & El Manana are collected on Gorillaz Phase 2: Slow Boat to Hades (2006), together with a great many other short pieces, many of them trivial (like downloadable ring tones), some of them quite nice.

In the latter category is the three dimensional holographic live performance on MTV Europe, with Murdoc wearing only a codpiece while 2-D sings the ode to the windmill, "Feeling Good Inc." There's an animated interview with Noodle, whose English is getting pretty darned good, talking about the making of the video Dare.

"El Manana Live in Harlem" is a great version possibly better than the album's studio mix, really showing off 2-D's voice."Monk's Montage" is a recycling of many Gorillaz bits of animation, to a very unusual sound mix track, very fun; & many lesser things.

Murdoc fans will have plenty of extras on their favorite of bandmemember. A lovely puppet-version of satan-worshipping Murdoc delivers a speech for the Queen. The short-short cartoon "Gorillaz in Harlem Sting" shows Murdoc performing in the nude. And there's a long animated interview with Murdoc as an "MTV Crib" episode.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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