Gorillaz at the O2 Arena: Noel Gallagher and Graham Coxon join Damon Albarn at spectacular London show
When does a musical side project cease to be a side project? When said project attracts more notoriety than that which first brought you fame? When its songbook is longer, broader, and better known? If Damon Albarn ever pays mind to such confusion over his renown in 2017, he doesn’t show it.
After a seven-year hiatus, Gorillaz returned earlier this year with a fifth studio album, Humanz, and an accompanying world tour, which rolled into the O2 tonight for the first of two shows that close out its European leg. Albarn has now fronted Gorillaz – part band, part ever-evolving cartoon satire of the music industry as evoked by graphic artist and co-creator Jamie Hewlett – for just shy of two decades, before which, he spent one decade as the doe-eyed dreamboat of Britpop. In that time, it’s safe to say that he’s perfected the art of the massive stadium party.
From the moment that opener M1-A1 (from the eponymous 2001 debut LP) reaches out into the dome with its shouted appeal “…is anyone out there?”, Gorillaz have the audience in raptures. Early focus tends towards that inaugural long-player and 2005’s Demon Days (the hauntingly pretty melodica-driven Tomorrow Comes Today, and the lo-fi grunge of The Last Living Souls); the set is six songs old before the first cut from Humanz – Saturnz Barz – appears with infectious dancehall swagger, courtesy of Popcaan. The Jamaican is one of a seemingly small number of collaborators not in attendance tonight, and so his performance is witnessed on the giant screen behind the band, which is put to constant use in bringing Hewlett’s vision for this virtual band to life with vibrant panache.
There follows a lively version of Charger, for which two-tone queen Pauline Black ably deputises in Grace Jones’s role from the record, replacing the latter’s rarefied growl with rude-girl vivacity. The show then ascends into a riotous dance party thanks largely to a starry cavalcade of pop, hip-hop, and RnB talent.
It’s in these type of collaborations that Gorillaz shine brightest. Linking with hotshot young upstarts like Vince Staples (on the frantic Ascension), Zebra Katz (alongside House pioneer Jamie Principle on the woozy cabaret Sex Murder Party) and tonight’s support Little Simz (Garage Palace) lends Albarn’s vacant, resigned vocal a world-weary authority. Then there are the legends like Mos Def (Sweepstakes, Stylo); The Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown (Dirty Harry); and De La Soul (Superfast Jellyfish, Feel Good Inc.), here lending assured gravitas of their own.
A slice of live-performance history closes out the main set, as Graham Coxon and one Mr Noel Gallagher join Albarn and Savages’ Jehnny Beth on stage for We Got the Power, washing any remaining bitter Blur/Oasis waters well and truly under the bridge on a powerfully anthemic tide. The encore brings yet another icon to the stage, as Shaun Ryder takes the lead on hymn-to-hedonism Dare, before the ridiculously catchy Clint Eastwood reminds us that Gorillaz owes as much to Damon Albarn’s talent for writing a killer hook as to his superstar-laden address book.
Remerging – hot, sweaty, and beaming – into the chilly Greenwich air, the crowd are left in little doubt that they’ve witnessed a truly remarkable spectacle. A festival compressed into two hours, and a powerful statement of Damon Albarn’s eclectic musical legacy.
Photos: Dan Donovan
For further information and future events visit Gorillaz’s website here.
Watch the video for Garage Palace here: