Photography by Calvin Kertzman
By Ash Jones, Staff Writer
Venue: TD Garden, Boston
Date: Tuesday, October 11th
The communal setting of a Gorillaz concert makes you wish you had spent the extra dollar to be closer to the warmth exuding from the magnetic stage. Damon Albarn welcomes many new voices onto the band’s North American tour. Every featured musician invites the audience into their own creative world, which placed a sense of belonging onto every raving fan at the TD Garden last Tuesday.
Gorillaz is a musical group of their own species. It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t at least heard of “Clint Eastwood” or “Feel Good” due to their fascinating genre-fusion of hip-hop and alternative style.
Their biggest hits stay afloat in social media spaces and drive attendees to their concerts. But once the lights go down, it doesn’t matter if you’ve listened to their entire discography or not. Gorillaz provides a high-voltage performance that’ll compel you to Shazam every track that pricked your ears.
Damon Albarn, along with the musicians that joined him in providing an electrifying performance, were induced by the roar of the audience. They took every chance to interact with those in attendance — whether the floor, the fancy club seaters, or even the people sitting one hundred feet above in the stadium. It was truly an experience that wasn’t exclusive to the cult following of Gorillaz. Every soul in that room was accounted for.
EARTHGANG’S HIP-HOP HYPE
Olu and WowGr8 — a duo from Atlanta known together as EarthGang — opened with a set you couldn’t help but do a little shimmy or head-bop to. Stylistically, their music wasn’t a precursor of what was to come when Gorillaz stepped on stage. Instead, they were able to establish the diversity of the entire concert.
There were so many eclectic sounds throughout the evening. Opening with African drums, rap covers, and raw percussion-based melodies, the duo were the perfect fit for launching attendees onto this musical ride. It was a ride that was different, yet an exhilarating trip.
The audience was already bouncing off the walls before Gorillaz made an appearance. They shouted any lyrics they knew from EarthGang’s catalog. Even if they were unfamiliar with the duo, I could spot gray-haired Gorillaz fans grooving along to EarthGang’s set, which was rich with culture and stimulation.
The earlier works of the Gorillaz had a mysterious and peculiar quality to them that made people more fascinated with what they put out. Picture being around during early 2000s pop culture, then suddenly witnessing four animated characters (each with their respective lore) becoming the face of a genre-bent music group. It was jarring and confusing, yet also intriguing. People begged for more!
That’s what it was like when the arena went black, and all you could hear were the screams of the crowd. Before long, everyone settled down to hear a voice bellow into the speakers: “Hello! Is anyone there?!”
“M1A1” from their debut record grew louder, and Albarn emerged with his arms in the air. Color finally illuminated the stage. The distinctive designs of the Gorillaz caricatures were beautifully showcased on the stadium screens. My eyes lit up with excitement.
ALBARN PLATFORMS FRESH TALENT
Going into this concert, I didn’t expect to write down so many new artists to dive into afterward. The lineup was stacked. I hold high respect for Damon Albarn for including underrated voices in the music industry and giving them a slice of the stage.
For “Kids with Guns,” a domineering soul singer stepped into the spotlight. She belted her heart out during the outro of the track. Her name is Michelle Ndegwa, and she added more emphasis to the song, which is already coated with such a strong message.
Although she’s not unknown in her native country, Malian artist Fatoumata Diawara took control of an American audience as she sang Gorillaz’s recent release, “Désolé.” Everyone gravitated to her exuberant and cheery energy. She clapped and swayed along the stage, even having playful banter with Albarn as they performed. Her stage presence couldn’t help but make me and everyone in my section smile with admiration. We all passionately applauded as her infectious aura greatly impacted the morale of the crowd.
THE CLASSICS OF DEMON DAYS
Arguably their most essential album, Demon Days had the most number of songs played during the evening. The crowd echoed every word that Albarn sang.
“DARE” was a huge hit of the night that had everyone dancing like Noodle in their music video.
“Dirty Harry,” accompanied by Bootie Brown, felt like a choir of people chanting the lyrics as gospel.
The heavy inclusion of the iconic Demon Days felt almost necessary. It satisfied the longstanding fans of Gorillaz, while also catering to newcomers who are still infatuated with their timeless music from 2005.
EASING THE CROWD WITH PLASTIC BEACH MELODIES
Despite being a relatively fast-paced performance with a lot of electronic use, there was still room for softer moments. The setlist was perfectly composed to provide a balance between bass-boosting spectacles and easy-going tracks that you might shed a tear at.
From their 2010 record, Plastic Beach, Gorillaz played “On Melancholy Hill” and “Empire Ants.” These tracks soothed racing minds that just listened to riveting songs such as “Tranz” and “19-2000.” They were light and relaxed, giving the audience a moment to catch their breath.
I remember feeling moved by the intro to “Empire Ants.” I rested my eyes, and it started sounding like a peaceful lullaby to me. It felt like an eternity that I was at ease, but really, I was enthralled by the forty seconds of guitar that radiated calming energy into the room.
The moment made me appreciate how I was able to witness these creative forces who’ve greatly influenced the music world. To live in the same era as Gorillaz is a good fortune I’m more than pleased to have taken advantage of. Attending one of their concerts and hearing their soft, yet impactful music was a monumental listening experience I’ll never forget.
A WELL-DESERVED ENCORE
Nobody was ready to leave the stadium until they heard “Feel Good Inc” and “Clint Eastwood.” After a brief break from the event, Albarn and the rest of the performers returned to the stage and began the encore with a recent single “New Gold.”
The new track features Tame Impala (Kevin Parker makes a psychedelic cameo on the stadium screen visuals) and Bootie Brown. With almost 30 million streams on Spotify already, “New Gold” was clearly a fan favorite. It got people on their feet, even after a lengthy two hour set.
The real highlights of the finale were “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc.” People were practically trembling in their seats, waiting for the first note of the latter song to play. Then De La Soul’s Posdnuos led the audience in chanting a quote. It read: “I will never let anyone tell me what to think, I will never let anyone tell me what to say, I will never let anyone tell me what to do. I feel strong, I feel confident and I… feel… good.”
From there, the track exploded into the speakers with clever finesse. The song was remixed and came at rapid speed, and everyone released every ounce of their staying power they had left for the night.
Closing out the evening, the crowd already knew their most famous track was about to sweep the floor. Call me a base-level Gorillaz fan, but “Clint Eastwood” took the cake, and blew every glorious song that came before it out of the water.
The build-up was intense, and almost had a cinematic feel to it. Albarn settled the excitable crowd, and the lights dimmed ever so slightly. The sole spotlight followed Albarn to the center of the stage. He pulled out his melodica to simulate the melody that usually comes towards the end of “Clint Eastwood.”
As his solo concluded, harsh drums banged out, and the rest of the song swelled into the room. The audience bobbed their heads in unison as they celebrated an acclaimed song that will be remembered for decades.