Live photos/review: Gorillaz and their very special guests play MSG

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  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

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Damon Albarn seemed more like a fan than a frontman at the Gorillaz's rock-star-riddled show last Friday at Madison Square Garden. He screamed, he jumped and he swung his hands in the air more at the back of the stage without a microphone than he did front and center. But who wouldn't go manic sharing songs with the likes of Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of the Clash, Lou Reed, Mos Def, De La Soul (video below) and Bobby Womack?

N.E.R.D., the weirdo rap-rock heroes fronted by Pharell Williams, opened for the Gorillaz with a set of nearly all new tunes from their upcoming album titled Nothing. N.E.R.D.'s mix of funky falsetto and sex-obsessed raps was a perfect segue into the musical ADD of Albarn and company's performance.

The crowd chanted "Lou" with a long O as Reed sauntered onto the lofted stage beneath a massive screen covered in animation. The New York titan could have farted into the microphone and the crowd would have gone wild.

Click past the jump for the full review

Collaboration has always been at the core of the Gorillaz project. As a virtual band, it juxtaposes the grotesque artwork of Jamie Hewlett, creator of Tank Girl, with the genre-jumping tunes helmed by Albarn. And although Albarn may be directing the multimedia set's musical direction, the high points of their catalogue have often come from its infrequent collaborators. Friday's romp at MSG was no different.

The crowd chanted "Lou" with a long O as Reed sauntered onto the lofted stage beneath a massive screen covered in animation. The New York titan could have farted into the microphone and the crowd would have gone wild. Instead he ripped a monster-mangled guitar solo and coldly talked his way through a duet with Albarn called "Some Kind of Nature" from the Gorillaz's most recent trip into weirdness and musical eclecticism, Plastic Beach.

Bassist Paul Simonon and guitarist Mick Jones were recruited to the Gorillaz for the duration of the Escape to Plastic Beach tour. Despite the momentous implications of a Clash reunion, they stood on opposite sides of the stage for most of the show. Jones played it cool while Simonon stomped around like he was planning on murdering his white P-Bass. Simonon finally plodded over to Jones during the synthesizer freakout "Glitter Freeze." It was a punk rocker's wet dream. They rocked out together, swinging their guitars in unison London Calling style.

Mos Def's appearance provided another show highlight; he spit his blitzkrieg bars through a red telephone and wore a ludicrous black cape with purple lining and a sailor's cap in spirit of the Plastic Beach theme. Pos, Mase and Dove from De La Soul stopped by as well, bouncing back and forth across the stage while performing the Grammy-winning "Feel Good Inc." And Yukimi Nagano of Swedish group Little Dragon also supported Albarn. Barefoot on stage she brought a bouncy energy to the show.

During the encore, Bobby Womack brought the house down from the seat of a chair placed at center stage where he crooned over the haunting "Cloud of Unknowing." And the show culminated with a performance of Gorillaz's first hit, "Clint Eastwood," where London rappers Kano and Bashy stood in for the conspicuously absent Del the Funkee Homosapien. They traded tough rhymes while Albarn goofily took on a rapper aesthetic, he gripped the mike in one hand while he pointed two cocked fingers at the crowd.

With a little help from his friends, Albarn turned MSG into a carnival of demented animation and stellar music unhinged by genre restraints. The guests definitely stole the show, but it was Albarn's energy and Hewlett's ego-disarming cartoon cloak that drove the continuously surprising Gorillaz project to new heights in front of a sold-out crowd at the Garden.

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