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In the music spotlight: Gorillaz

The 11-track “The Now Now” includes some of Gorillaz’s funkiest riffs — but also some of the weakest tunes in the band’s catalog.

The 11-track “The Now Now” includes some of Gorillaz’s funkiest riffs — but also some of the weakest tunes in the band’s catalog. | Jamie Hewlett

Gorillaz are occasionally damned with faint praise, dubbed the greatest cartoon rock band since The Archies. The truth is, anyone would be hard-pressed to find a flesh-and-blood act that has innovated as consistently as Damon Albarn has done behind the mask of Jamie Hewlett’s animated avatars. Images and inventive apps featuring bassist Murdoc Niccals, singer 2-D, drummer Russell Hobbs and guitarist Noodle make for entertaining rock and roll eye candy, but Gorillaz’ music is the real deal.

The band’s newest and fifth album “Humanz” expands Albarn’s fusion of rock, hip-hop, Brit-pop and island music. The singer’s voice as 2-D recedes from the foreground as he emphasizes his roles as prime mover and producer. The breakbeat-infused single “Ascension” features Long Beach rapper Vince Staples. “Saturnz Barz” finds Albarn dueting with Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan.

Gorillaz’ live show is no Saturday morning fare. The band’s previous Chicago visit to UIC Pavilion on 2010’s “Escape to Plastic Beach” tour was a tour de force and high-energy musical party. The sprawling band’s fluid stage line-up included an all-female string section, guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon of the Clash, late R&B legend Bobby Womack, alt-hip hop trio De La Soul, and Chicago’s own Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, among many others.

The band’s collaborative emphasis is expansive enough that many album participants are likely to be unavailable to appear onstage with the players. The “virtual band” solves the problem by including virtual guests, projected onscreen as the live musicians perform to a pre-recorded guest vocal. During the 2010 tour, virtual guests included Lou Reed and Snoop Dogg.

The Humanz Tour extends to the end of the year and spans four continents, but begins in Chicago with an opening night’s visit to Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island. Tour guests that may be present with the band on given dates include Vince Staples, Popcaan, Gospel star Mavis Staples, and De La Soul. An appearance by avant-pop icon Grace Jones would be a sure highlight, lashing into the industrial blast of “Charger.” Rapper D.R.A.M. may join for the recently-released fourth single from “Humanz,” the starlit “Andromeda.”

Earlier this month, the band released a new album track entitled “Sleeping Powder.” Fans discovered the track online, hidden in the Gorillaz app behind a pile of books in 2-D’s bedroom.

* Gorillaz, 7:30 p.m. July 8, Huntington Bank Pavilion, 1300 S. Lynn White. SOLD OUT; livenation.com.

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.