Review: Gorillaz 'Humanz' Tour at London's O2
Last night’s journey to London’s 02 was spent in thought. I was travelling to the Gorillaz gig, but I had no idea who I was going to see. For a band branded by menacing cartoonist visuals, I wondered: would Gorillaz find a way of staging a live performance without showing their faces? It was certainly a possibility, but the answer was in fact no. Contrary to how most see them – as their animalistic selves – every aspect of humanity was unveiled. It was their first tour in seven years, and a mortal stage presence made sense given that their title album (released earlier this year) is called ‘Humanz’.
Gorillas and humans – the threshold between the two was blurred as both became bound by that alternative ‘z’. It was that sense of abstractness that flared from the moment the frontiers stepped on stage, and it was omitted with total force. A force to be reckoned with, for when it comes to their music, one genre is simply too limiting to try and fit Gorillaz into. They address them all. That expectation was something I in-part anticipated as I entered the arena. It’s a big space – holding 20,000 – which is something I tend to run away from, as I prefer intimate gigs. But how intimate could the Gorillaz be? Everything about their sound is on a grand scale – grand production, grand vocals, and always a grand hype for it. So I prepared myself. I bought two beers - thoughts for which went like this: ‘one for now, one for the road’. The ‘road’ in this case turned out to be a spot I repeatedly danced around near the front of a rammed standing crowd. Everyone else was doing the same thing – all submerged in soul-driven sounds with eyes like sick puppies. That’s the thing about Gorillaz – their ability to be imaginative extends to all forms: music, video, and last night, a full-blown show.
That capability was made clear from the offset of the gig. Gorillaz opened with ‘M1 A1’ – an apt start to their road journey that's evidently still going at 'a thousand miles an hour'. Following on from this: a question posed. “Are we the last living souls?” frontman Damon Albarn asked in song towards the beginning of the set. It remained in thought throughout the almost-2-hour performance, with an entire arena in desire of an answer. Their most recent chosen genre was then reflected through ‘Saturnz Barz’: a total techno number that transformed the O2 into a pure riotous rave. One that reigned on. Just think about the ever-extending list of collaborations over the Gorillaz's 16-year history (over 10 on the 'Humanz' album alone). To the surprise of all, many of those collaborators stepped on stage to join the band last night.
Guest artists endlessly poured on. Vince Staples appeared programmed as he jumped round the clock throughout ‘Ascension’, Jamie Principle seduced the show with his mighty rendition of ‘Sex Murder Party’, De La Soul was in full swing for the long hailed ‘Feel Good Inc’, whilst Shaun Ryder and Roses Gabor won the hearts of the crowd during ‘DARE’. Most surprising of all was the casual greeting by Noel Gallagher – who joined in an epic finale of ‘We Got the Power’, concluding the show pre-encore. All in all – London was spoilt. Such a variety of musical presence mirrored that of those watching: parents, teens – it was hard to distinguish between the two sides of the scale as all were revelling from plenty of performers. Gorillaz performed a staggering 30-song-set – bouncing around in versatility. Standouts included ‘On Melancholy Hill’: during which Damon Albarn sung with sadness and simplicity. But it was also the calm before the storm. What followed? ‘El Mañana’, ‘Ascension’ and ‘Strobelite’, in turn progressing from the sorrowful sounds of their praised 2005 single to hissing verses of pounding bass. It was as though all were aboard a time-hopping ship that randomly stopped at just about any mood of music. Towns of funk, house, hip hop, electronica, acoustic and even balladry were all visited. What bound them together? An overwhelming desire to thrive.
And that’s something Gorillaz faithfully delivered. The overarching question was clear - ‘concert or carnival? You decide.’ Their backing certainly supported the latter idea, for the stage was full to the brim. Gospel singers, bold band, emotive string section – the crew were ready to perform into the night, with Albarn leading the way. Whilst tours used to be a way of promoting an album, it’s now the complete opposite. Album’s pave the way for tours – for staging a show that amplifies everything aspect of a song to the extreme. In the case for Gorillaz, it solidified their ability to inject a level of humani'z'ation, whilst still remaining grounded in their animalistic alter-egos (displayed on the consuming screen behind for the entire set). London’s gig finalised the first European leg of their Humanz tour, and what a way to close. A seven year tour break may have seemed much too lengthy, but if there’s one thing the Brit band proved last night, it’s their desire for musical domination.
And back to my first question of how to stage a cartoon established band? Gorillaz turned the idea on its head – themselves appearing as crazy humans whilst audience’s minds were teleported to a virtual dimension. With a never-ending ability to sustain the element of surprise, their burning blitz continues to roam on.
Humanz is out now