But despite being something of an anomaly in the world of pop music, the group, thanks to Albarn's watchful eye and songwriting prowess, have become a full-fledged musical phenomenon – just ask any of the 10,000 or so fans who flocked to Toronto's Air Canada Centre to catch a glimpse of the band's audio-visual extravaganza.
Of course, if you're going to host a big-budget show, you might as well go big. And go big they did: for the wandering eye, Albarn and co. supplied accompanying music videos on a massive screen over the stage, with nearly all videos created specifically for the show. Always visually appealing and often awe-inspiring, the videos played a clever, self-reflexive counterpart to the band's onstage performance. The clips featured the animated group members singing along and bouncing to the rhythm of the real musicians below, and interacting with cartoon versions of De La Soul and Lou Reed, as well as live-action guests like Snoop Dogg.
The videos contributed invaluably to the overall effect of the show, and created an alternative to watching the musicians onstage, though they hardly needed the help. Albarn was joined by more than 25 other musicians, including an impressive number of Plastic Beach's many guests: Bobby Womack, Little Dragon, the six-piece Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, British rappers Bashy and Kano, and, yes, De La Soul.
Album tracks from Gorillaz's latest effort comprised the bulk of the set list, and a number of older album tracks got their moment in the spotlight as well, but at a venue whose size made engaging the whole crowd at once difficult, it was the hits that served as highlights for the evening. "Stylo" and "Dirty Harry" made early promises of what the multitude of onstage musicians were capable of, but it was the sped-up rendition of "D.A.R.E." and the one-two punch of "Feel Good Inc." and "Clint Eastwood" that provided the true peaks of musical excellence.
Of course, a show of this magnitude is planned to a tee – the lights, videos and onstage performance have to be synced perfectly for the cartoon characters to keep tempo with the real-life musicians – but it was the band's ability to come across as spontaneous, and their unyielding attention to detail that made the performance special. Nuances like Albarn shouting "good evening" while swinging his arm dramatically, De La Soul's Maceo starting "Feel Good Inc." with that throat-shredding laugh, and the sailor hats worn by the entire string section all reflected the kind of attention to detail that make the occasional big-budget show worth the splurge.