It’s hard to imagine what a Gorillaz concert is like mostly because of the band’s elusive history, but on Oct. 11 questions were answered when they put on an unforgettable performance at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Georgia.
For many, the anticipation was built up for almost two decades. How does a “virtual band” perform live? Are any of the rumors true? Only a select few know because the Gorillaz rarely tour. This international tour, dubbed Humanz for their latest album release, is only the fourth tour since the animated band’s 2001 debut album.
When Damon Albarn and comic book artist Jamie Hewlett conceptualized the cartoon music group in the late 90s, they may not have realized how ingenious the idea was—or how much it would catch on. Creating a fictional universe of musicians and their epic shenanigans wasn’t only extremely entertaining for music lovers, it was refreshing in a time of boy bands and Britney Spears.
It was and still is very mysterious. The personalities of 2-D, Murdoc, Russ and Noodle can merely be seen in music videos and brief cartoons. The only truly static thing about the Gorillaz is Albarn’s musical input. Everything else is a giant collaborative and evolving cluster of creativity.
From De La Soul to Mick Jones to Snoop Dogg, the list of contributions goes on limitlessly. Gorillaz sets the stage for anything goes. In an interview with The Guardian, Albarn (vocals for front man 2-D) said that his band isn’t about anything specific.
“It’s very unruly. You can go anywhere and do anything,” Albarn said. “And that’s the whole point of it. There’s no agenda.”
Humanz go to Georgia
For those in the audience who had never seen Gorillaz in the flesh, the Humanz tour gave them a sense of what the East London singer-songwriter so ambiguously describes—an erratic performance that gives you everything from hyped up rap flows to the soothing ambiance of Albarn’s vocal range. This variety was seen throughout the entire show right from the very beginning.
As the lights went dark, a voice suddenly cried out, “Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?” and the buzz of anticipation around the room lulled in unison.
It was the intro to “M1 A1,” a banger from the album Demon Days which exploded and instantly pulled the crowd in for what was to come.
The audience was asked, “Are we the last living souls?” as they bounced up and down to the second song of the night. The crowd erupted as the mischievous characters made their digital debut on the giant screen behind Albarn and his 12-piece musical ensemble.
In the grand scheme of things, the show did have a specific direction. It was a fixed set list, give or take a few songs—but this didn’t take away from the novelty of the night.
The first half of the show was woven with melodic hip-swaying Albarn-heavy numbers like “Tomorrow Comes Today,” “Every Planet We Reach Is Dead,” and “El Manana.”
The Gorillaz newest song—featuring only 2-D—made its way into the first set as well. The harpsichord tinged intro of “Sleeping Powder” echoed throughout the venue and the beat picked up, busting out the crowd’s groovy moves.
This song was striking because of its story. Only about four months old, “Sleeping Powder” was written three days before its mid-June release. It’s a punchy, synthy Gorillaz track that you can’t help but bump your head to despite its seemingly trivial lyrics.
It’s clear that Albarn is just as entranced by the music as his spectators, and fans lit up the venue with their phone lights as the multi-instrumentalist lost himself in “Busted and Blue,” a ballad from the Humanz album.
The second portion of the evening was reserved for more songs off this latest project—upbeat, electro trip hop head-bobbers such as “Sex Murder Party” (with Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz), dub-funk tracks like “Strobelite” (with Peven Everett) and bubblegum hip-hop beaters like “Out of Body” (with Kilo Kish). All of the features of the evening were staples of the Humanz tour. Unlike many of the previous shows on this tour, Duluth did not see special guests.
The impressive light rig created a luminous grid above the performers as Albarn proudly closed the second set with “We Got the Power,” another track off the new album.
Gorillaz blessed their audience with a hits encore, beginning with the brooding, electro-lined “Stylo” track from the Plastic Beach album. The goofy music video played along—which features an epic car chase scene starring Bruce Willis and Gorillaz bassist Murdoc (whose personality is characterized as a young Keith Richards).
Then everyone’s inner teenager cried in victory when Albarn pulled out his melodica for the uncanny opening of “Clint Eastwood.” The singer even took a pause to sign an autograph for some fans in the front row.
The Gorillaz’s gifted group of backup singers harmonized vocals from “Don’t Get Lost In Heaven,” which effortlessly transitioned into “Demon Days.” The choral composition of the evening’s closing song vibrated the room.
“Before it fall down, falling down falling down…” Albarn sang out, moments before he hit the floor, as if the electrifying evening had jolted him into a state of shock.
“So pick yourself up, it’s a brand new day,” the singers belted out while Albarn pulled himself back to reality.
The concert came to a sudden close, and a whirlwind of nostalgia soaked the air as people in the audience checked Gorillaz off their concert bucket list.