All photos contained in this post by Adrienne. The full set can be found here on the Gorillaz Live on Letterman photoset.
Note: A companion post to this one is also being featured on The Clash Blog, which is being posted in several parts, and includes more photos from the Letterman appearance that are not shown here and are worth checking out. Part one is up now and posted here. While there, please check out the rest of the site, it’s a wonderful meeting place for Clash fans all over the world, with your Clash Blogger, Tim, at the helm. Tim’s writing is always intelligent, passionate and from the heart and his site is loaded with history and current events relating to the only band that matters, including an account of his own recent meeting with Mick Jones and Paul Simonon in a seven part article when Gorillaz landed in his hometown recently. It’s a wonderful read and I suggest starting from the beginning with Part One.
Gorillaz Live On Letterman
It’s been almost exactly a month since Ady and I were, as I like to say, raked across the cheese grater of fun during our four day, three-performance Gorillaz Odyssey in early October. I have been wanting to write about this since it happened, but it was such a tornado of excitement that the only things that were coming out were sighs, drawn out expletives (used as positive adjectives) and some gibberishy run on sentences. Since then I’ve watched merrily (ok, longingly) as Gorillaz plowed through the United States and Canada, listening to the tales of friends who caught the caravan as it headed out on the rest of the tour, and it seems as though we all suffered some sort of affliction or withdrawal after it was over. Yes, it was that good. Bear with me as I try to recount the euphoria, and the silly-string of good luck that somehow placed us front and center at the Live On Letterman taping that pushed the weekend experience completely over the top, as well as some of the events before and after.
I will warn you there will be lots of gushing. And this is long, you may need snacks and drinks, so get those ready. I tried to resist, but finally the fan in me has come out full force and it’s time to get it off my chest and into words for posterity. I still wonder how I escaped being committed after the weekend was all over.
So, we had it all planned out, or at least we thought we did. We had tickets in hand for to two shows and were headed to New York City for the performance at Madison Square Garden, followed by the Camden, New Jersey show. I would make the 6-7 hour trek from Cleveland to Philadelphia and planned to rise early and head out. The next morning team Two Sisters would then drive from Philly to New York City, check in to our hotel, then take the subway to East Village and spend the day there before going to our ultimate destination, Gorillaz show #1.
I was counting down the days to that weekend. At this point only four more days to go. I was finally going to see Damon Albarn in one of his many musical incarnations, and happily it was the incarnation that included Jamie Hewlett—a double whammy of goodness. The anticipation had been rising and growing to an epic proportion since the news of a new Gorillaz album made the rounds last year. Before that news came, I was simply waiting for a glimmer of hope of seeing Albarn live in any way possible in my part of the world. Slowly things unfolded, and then came the news that two very special gentlemen would be joining the tour, and the added thrill of seeing Mick Jones and Paul Simonon live for the first time ever heightened the anticipation. One half The Clash, one half of the longest standing musical fixture in my entire life would be on stage alongside Damon Albarn, against the backdrop of the visual brilliance of Jamie Hewlett. It was too perfect and I didn’t think it could get any better. And then came a phone call.
Ady called, rambling, and finally said something coherent along the lines of the basic “We won!” Quick brain scan. What did we win? Knowing what had been on our minds lately I was thinking maybe she meant upgraded tickets to Madison Square Garden?
“I got us tickets to see Gorillaz performing on the David Letterman Show,” (she had done this on the sly, hoping to be able to surprise me ). “and a woman just called to ask if I wanted two tickets?”
“That means we have to be in New York City to pick up the tickets that day by 5pm.” Which also meant I would have to leave Ohio a day earlier, tomorrow. More brain scans of all the things we needed to do to pull it off. If you know anything about Two Sisters and our ability to mobilize, you’ll know there was no hesitation on either end. Logistics often come after the decision to go for it, whatever it may be. We like to fly by the seat of our pants together, and that was that, New York City was even closer on the horizon.
As we were planning I started poking around the Subdivision site; I had somehow missed the contest so I was looking for more details and discovered we weren’t going to see the actual David Letterman Show, but instead a private taping that was to be webcast live, a full 1 hour Gorillaz set that was to air the same night as their appearance on the actual Letterman Show. Really?
Logistics went into high gear and I was now leaving for Philadelphia in less than 24 hours, driving through the night, and we were now headed to NYC a full day earlier.
The only snag on the entire journey was being rerouted on the way to Philly that night while were diverted off the highway because of a very bad accident. It closed the highway both ways for a stretch of 60 miles, and meant being rerouted through Maryland, adding at least another hour or two to the drive through fog and rain. Arrival wasn’t until after 1:30 in the morning. We didn’t get to sleep until well after 2:30am. By noon the next day my sister and I were on our way.
The drive into Jersey City was a breeze, and at this point all clouds and obstacles parted and made way for excitement that still lingers even now after it is all over. We got to the hotel and checked in by 2:30. We got settled, got ready and suddenly it was 3:30. BOING! Our final destination was still being sought, and we had to be at CBS Studios in the thick of Manhattan before 5pm or else forfeit tickets. A little time calculating, figuring out subway logistics, a false start with Ady forgetting her ID (a must for getting the tickets) that caused a short return to the hotel, and we were off again. We got off at our stop, flagged a taxi and were dropped off at CBS Studios. My pulse was racing. Any time I get in a time crunch the adrenaline kicks in. 4:15, we were good. We got out of the cab and walked into the studio office and approached the man behind the desk and inquired about our tickets. He looked very confused. My heart stopped for a moment and thinking back to that moment I swear I can hear the classic sound of a needle scratching off a record. We had no other information other than the address, no contacts to call, just and email with location and pick up time.
“Oh! Gorillaz. Yes, you need to go to the office at the top of the hill.”
I was breathing again. Still 45 minutes left before the office closed.
We hoofed it up 57th and opened the doors to the other CBS Studios offices. This time a colorful Jamie Hewlett illustration decorated the desk, pointing the way to victory. We were handed the tickets by a smiling Subdivision representative. We’d done it.
I asked a few questions before we left. Assigned seating? No, first come first serve. How many tickets were given out? 72 pairs through Subdivision. How many did the theater hold? About 250 for this show. Enjoy! she said. Team Two Sisters was now thoroughly excited, but also extremely hungry. We hadn’t eaten since early that morning, and were operating entirely on coffee and nerves. Now it was a quest for food….we decided we’d wander over to the theater and find something good to eat near Ed Sullivan Theater where the taping would take place. There was a pizza shop right next door. Perfect. It wasn’t until we were sitting inside that it dawned on us that yes, we were in THAT pizza shop (if you’ve ever watched Late Night with David Letterman you’ll know which). Our food was quite good: (tortellini soup, a salad and pizza, and I even dropped my first slice face down on the table, because you know, both members of team Two Sisters is often pretty clumsy like that.
Our seats at Angelo’s looked out onto the street in front of the theater, and we could see not one person was waiting around, at this point we were the first in line. By the time we finished, however, there were a handful of people who were forming the beginning of the line, so we hopped into it. We spent the next hour and a half goofing around, taking photos, talking to the people in front of us about how we all came to be there. Everyone in line was starting to become giddy as time wore on. Around 6:30pm or so, those who attended the taping of the actual Letterman show began to surface out of the theater. We got a heads up that they had played Rhinestone Eyes, that they rocked the house and yes, be prepared to have the time of our lives. The energy level of everyone in line started to rise further. Then we were lead into the theater.
We were corralled into the theater’s lobby and it was as if we were a bunch of kids waiting to open the world’s largest present together. Giddiness reigned. Three of my senses were immediately bombarded. First was the sight of the lovely lobby of Ed Sullivan Theater. It is very beautiful, and was exciting just to be standing there, independent of what was going on, thinking of all of the history of that building. Then, the sound of a very loud bass guitar shook the place. Holy shit. That’s Paul Simonon I hear playing behind those doors! A tease of things to come. Then came some guitar, then some singing. We were all being treated to a quick last minute sound check. I pricked my ears to hear more when one of the doors opened and then a tidal wave of smoke billowed through air. I breathed in as deep as I could, and then had a private giggle as the thought that I (along with a couple hundred others) could now claim to have shared a long distance bong hit with Gorillaz and very quite surely Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, by sheer proximity. Heh. Excitement was now reaching ridiculous proportions and starting to get the best of me and the show hadn’t even started yet.
After a short while a new group of people filed into the theater in front of all of us who had been in line for the past two hours. We were quickly reassured it was record executives, reporters and the like who would be sitting in the balcony. Everyone relaxed when we were told we would be on the floor. Then the floodgates opened. They removed the ropes and we were ushered into the theater, and here we were walking into David Letterman’s studio. It really is a beautiful place. And it’s very, very small. I heard a few people around us remark about the relative tininess of it compared to what it looks like on television, and it’s true, it’s very intimate. They had us file in straight down the front aisle, and the first people in line were instructed to go all the way to the end. Our lucky streak was still following us. Thanks to us stopping for pizza, where we ended up in line outside had now caused us to wind up in two of four seats that were dead center, the very best of the best in the house.
My sister and I, and the two guys sitting to our left (we later learned guy #1 to our left is actually called Justin and can be spotted all over the Live on Letterman webcast (hello Justin!), and our new friends from the line were dumbfounded. Many one word expletives and rhetorical questions could be heard: Wow! What? How? WTF?? The stage literally came up to our feet with a little catwalk area jutting out where our seats were. The stage was elevated by maybe two to three feet at most. They were going to be right in front of us. It was also very, very cold in the theater (I’ve since read that is how it usually is, at David Letterman’s request) and the room was slightly hazy (I imagined it was because we had just arrived on the shores of Plastic Beach . . .). Paul’s bass was right there in front of us. Paul Simonon’s bass! I could see the mermaid painting on it from my seat and I snapped a photo. Over there was Mick Jones’ guitar, and over there a pile of melodicas on one of the pianos. What a site. They allowed, and even encouraged, photos and we were given a flyer with info how to tweet to Gorillaz account, so now the dilemma was no longer how to sneak a picture, but how much time did we want to actually spend photographing versus enjoying the moment. Ady, knowing my conundrum, graciously took over photo and video duties for most of the evening (and the entire weekend).
A video loop of the Live on Letterman logo with Gorillaz characters began playing in the monitor at our feet, and I tried to collect my senses before it began. We got a text from our husbands and kids who were back at the house in Philly. They had the show queued up on the computer and had the lights out ready to go, as they were going to have their own party and watch for us on the video stream. That was a great moment realizing that somewhere out there they were watching and would be dancing along with us, as would everyone else who would be watching online. It made it even more of an event than it already was.
Cameramen took their positions, then the announcer. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Gorillaz.” and then the lights went out. Murdoch’s giant eyeball appeared on the big screen on the stage and we were treated to brief animation sequence by Jamie Hewlett. Then one by one we could see as Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Damon Albarn crept on stage along with the rest of their crew. The lights came back on, the video reel rolled, and they launched immediately into “Kids With Guns.”
Not one person in the house was left sitting from that moment forward and there was barely a division between who was on stage and who was in the audience. The mood was very much that we were all there in one fantastic moment together, grooving, dancing, singing. Smiling! Bliss. Smiles were huge and genuine and were passed back and forth between audience members and everyone on stage because we could all see one another so clearly. Mick Jones was ear to ear smiles and if you caught his eyes, the smiles got even bigger. He played and trotted along with such lightness and exuded such delight it was a treat to watch him. The women in the string section also never stopped smiling, oh to be a string player that evening! Paul Simonon, the epitome of stage cool, held his bass as if it were a weapon at the attack, firing those sonic bullets at us throughout the entire show. Such intensity. He kept a serious poker face as he played, but that easily gave way as soon as another performer would come near him, and then he would also break out into Cheshire grins. Everyone was having a blast, and it was one of those shows that you never wanted to end. “Kids With Guns!” Damon sang and pointed at Justin. “Kids With Guns!” he pointed at me. Cripes, they really are right in front of us. My sister was trying to take photos and video but when Damon would come so close near at times she would put the camera down because it would seem rude not to, lest the camera be practically stuffed right up into his face. Again, how did we end up here exactly?
The song ended and for a moment I stood there and tried to take it all in. Before me were Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, something I was just a few short years too young to ever have seen when The Clash was still together. I thought a moment about all the memories that exist between the two of them, memories beyond what is known and written. It was really something to have my first time seeing them reunited, be on such a small stage and so close, it really rendered me speechless, and it’s something to treasure forever. And now, this is where the coherent words begin to fail. Watch the webcast if you haven’t already, and just know it was every bit as exciting as you might think then multiply times ten. Damon launched into full on performance mode for the entire night, dancing wildly, sweating fiendishly, and conducting his mad circus of performers and audience members, whipping everyone into a complete whirlwind of excitement. They all played their hearts out, and we danced our asses off. And all the while, we knew the world was watching. More texts came in from family. Is that you up front? We see you! It was truly surreal in so many ways.
We could see the set list on the floor in front of us, and finally when “Feel Good Inc.” was over, we knew there was only one song left. Noooooo! But it was “Clint Eastwood.” If you’ve watched the webcast, you’ll know that is when the final frenzy occurred. Towards the end of the song Damon came up to our seats and beckoned people in the front to come up and be part of the choir. I saw him motion to us, but I can say in all honesty that my brain gave up on me finally at that moment. I looked at him, saw what he was asking of us but I couldn’t move. Luckily my sister, always with her wits about her, grabbed me and said get up there! And off we went!
Then all hell broke loose, and we jumped headlong into the chaos. For the record, I am only 5′ 3″, and ALWAYS among the shortest in audiences. From my vantage point, all I could see were shoulders around me. We were everywhere jumping up and down and singing, and I couldn’t see where I was going. Ady eventually found me again and we were beside ourselves with laughter. I kept thinking about that fateful phone call, and never in a million years in everything I imagined the show would be like, would have I pictured this to be part of it. It was utter, wonderful chaos, the best kind that music can create. The song came to what everyone thought was the end, and many people were cleared off stage by the now concerned security staff. But the music kept going, and suddenly I found myself standing next right next to Damon Albarn and was part of an inner ring around him as he led us into a cat call and answer hootenanny (straight jacket, size S please). I love looking at everyone’s faces when I take a peek at the clip now. Sheer delight.
Finally, the song finished and in a perfect end to a perfect evening, I locked eyes with Damon Albarn and tried to pantomime something suggesting “that was brilliant!” and for a brief moment the fangirl in me needed that straight jacket I had just ordered as we high fived, his eyes were wild, lit up by the adrenaline from the performance. Everyone closed in on him at that point, and then he slipped away offstage, and by the time the stage cleared of the chorus, Gorillaz were gone.
top photo: Shan with the one and only Mr. Mick Jones after the Gorillaz Live on Letterman taping (photo by Ady)