When Gorillaz—a “virtual” band featuring four animated members—released its first, self-titled album in 2001, I didn’t know what to think about it.
Now two decades into Gorillaz’s existence, many people still don’t know what to think about Gorillaz, which was founded by Damon Albarn of the Britpop band Blur, and visual artist Jamie Hewlett, creator of the graphic novel Tank Girl. While the future of Gorillaz seemed bleak after Albarn and Hewlett had serious disagreements in 2012-2013, they patched things up and got back to work on Gorillaz, which is currently on tour to support new album Humanz, the band’s first album since 2010’s Plastic Beach and a surprise release later that year, The Fall.
On Thursday night at the Forum in Los Angeles, Gorillaz played to a sold-out crowd—adults who were probably teenagers when the first album came out; teenagers who have discovered the group; and even children who were probably turned onto Gorillaz by their parents.
The opening act, Compton native Vince Staples, performed with a plain bright-orange background. The stage was covered in theatrical smoke, which made him nearly impossible to see as he moved around onstage.
The crowd members screamed their heads off when the lights dimmed and the vocal sample of Damon Albarn screaming, “Hellllllllo! Is there anyone out there!” played. The musicians then walked onto the stage, including Albarn; multi-instrumentalist Mike Smith, who has also recorded and toured with Jamiroquai; and lead-guitarist Jeff Wootton, who has collaborated with Noel Gallagher of Oasis, Massive Attack and many others. They started off the set with “M1 A1.”
You may be asking yourself: Wait … how does this work if Gorillaz is supposedly a band with four animated characters? The answer: The live musicians perform onstage as animations play on a screen above them. After an animation flashed on the screen for the character Murdoc, the band played “Tomorrow Comes Today” from Gorillaz’s self-titled debut—which still sounds hypnotic all these years later.
The animation for the character Noodle brought on some of the heavier tracks and several live guests. This portion of the show started with “Melancholy Hill,” which was followed by ”Let Me Out” with Pusha T, “Dirty Harry” with Bootie Brown, “Ascension” with Vince Staples, and ’80s soul-club-style track “Strobelite” with Peven Everett.
Later in the show, De La Soul joined Gorillaz for “Superfast Jellyfish,” as well as “Feel Good” during the encore. At the start of the encore, Albarn mentioned that it seemed like every couple of weeks, the world was becoming a crazier place, and said he remembered when he spent time with Bruce Willis doing some fly fishing; the band then played a song called “Idaho,” which does not appear to be released on any of the group’s albums. This was followed by a performance of “Stylo,” which featured a couple of the animated Gorillaz on the video screen having a Mad Max-style car battle with Bruce Willis.
Del the Funkee Homosapien came out during the encore to thunderous applause for Gorillaz’s well-known track “Clint Eastwood” before the band toned things down to close out with the psychedelic-pop tracks “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven” and “Demon Days.”
The highlights of the set were “Sleeping Powder,” which showed animated character 2-D playing a keyboard in a room with a photo of Liberace on the wall, before showing 2-D in a comical appearance similar to Italian disco videos of the ’70s where individuals had tracers; “Strobelite,” which sounded like an ’80s club anthem with Peven Everett on lead vocals; and the uplifting, positive vibe of “We Got the Power,” with Jehnny Beth sharing vocal duties with Albarn before Beth went crowd-surfing deep into the crowd.
While I admit that I’ve never understood the animation portion of Gorillaz, that does not matter when the band performs live. At times, I felt like I was at a rock concert, a hip-hop concert, an EDM concert, a modern dance club and an ’80s dance club. Blending all of those sounds together cannot be easy, and Gorillaz deserves the acclaim and popularity it has.
In other words, should Gorillaz ever appear in the area again, it’s not, “You should go.” It’s, “You HAVE TO go!” Gorillaz live is an incredible music experience—and coming from someone like me who has seen and heard it all from live music acts, this is saying a lot.
Last Living Souls
Tomorrow Comes Today
Every Planet We Reach Is Dead
Busted and Blue
Let Me Out featuring Pusha T
Dirty Harry featuring Bootie Brown
Ascension featuring Vince Staples
Strobelite featuring Peven Everett
Andromeda featuring DRAM
Sex Murder Party featuring Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz
Out of Body featuring Kilo Kish, Zebra Katz, and Michelle
Garage Palace featuring Little Simz
Kids With Guns
Superfast Jellyfish featuring De La Soul
We Got the Power featuring Jehnny Beth
Stylo featuring Peven Everett and Arthur
Feel Good featuring De La Soul
Clint Eastwood featuring Del the Funky Homosapien
Don’t Get Lost in Heaven
Photos by Guillermo Prieto/Irockphotos.net