Monday night (4 December 2017) saw Gorillaz, the semi-fictional eclectic electro-pop all-stars, play a triumphant homecoming at London’s O2 Arena in support of their latest full-length album Humanz. Band leader and former Blur frontman Damon Albarn brought an exhaustive range of talent onstage to bring the songs from Humanz to life, along with an array of fan favourites and deep cuts.
The brainchild of singing-songwriting Britpop hero Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett, Gorillaz is defined by the music just as much as by the stories and characters of the band’s animated musicians, from demonic bassist Murdoc Niccals to dark-eyed frontman 2D. Given The O2’s scale and its ability to present audio, lights, and video altogether, this makes London’s biggest arena the perfect place for Gorillaz to take residence in for a night or two and put every part of the band’s world on display. The albums themselves, while largely composed by Albarn, from 2001’s Gorillaz to 2010’s Plastic Beach, include a huge amount of guest talent in the form of rappers, musicians, and guest vocalists of all kinds, and it’s this rotating cast of visitors who made Monday night come alive.
Taking to the stage at 9pm to an almost-packed arena, the calls of “Hello? Is anyone there?” from “M1 A1” give way to Albarn, with a Fender Telecaster, nonchalantly leading an ensemble of drummers, choral singers, keyboardists, and other musicians headfirst into the set. I have to single out the bassist, Seye Adelekan, for extra praise – the dude couldn’t look any more “into it” if he tried, for the show’s entire duration. The O2 screens display scenes from the band’s many incredible music videos, all starring the Gorillaz themselves, and by the time “Last Living Souls” from 2005’s Demon Days has gotten going, everybody’s on the same page. It’s hard to imagine anyone having this much fun anywhere else in London tonight.
“Given The O2’s scale and its ability to present audio, lights, and video altogether, this makes London’s biggest arena the perfect place for Gorillaz”
Contrary to my expectations, it’s the more recent songs which see the audience, especially the dedicated contingent in front of the stage, go berserk. “Saturnz Barz” from Humanz is an immediate hit, and “Charger” sees Damon affecting 2D’s most characterful vocal delivery alongside ska legend Pauline Black, who sings Grace Jones‘ vocal, to great acclaim from the crowd. Black is the first of a constant stream of remarkable guest talent to come onboard, as rap heroes De La Soul add their contributions to “Superfast Jellyfish” and rising rap superstar Vince Staples lights up The O2 with his own bars on “Ascension”.
The double-whammy of “Strobelite”, featuring the incredible voice of Peven Everett, and D.R.A.M.‘s contributions to contemporary fan favourite “Andromeda” (this fan’s personal favourite song off Humanz) are where the night’s ambitions are fulfilled – it’s just non-stop vibes from here on out. Mos Def‘s appearances are golden, alongside the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble on “Tickertape”, while the sheer level of intensity during “Sex Murder Party” damn near steals the entire show. For those of us who grew up in the 2000s and remember Demon Days‘ rise to becoming a generation-defining album, cuts like “Dirty Harry”, “DARE”, and “Feel Good, Inc.” offer wave after wave of joyous nostalgia, while sitting perfectly in the setlist alongside choice numbers from more recent albums.
The main set ends with “We Got The Power”, a triumphant anthem from Humanz, and while the promotional Facebook video for this concert advertised Jehnny Beth‘s scheduled appearance, the likes of Noel Gallagher and Blur’s Graham Coxon come as a complete, jaw-dropping surprise. Opening act Little Sims joins this cavalcade of Britpop royalty onstage to unite The O2 in a transportive, uniting singalong before a six-song encore, beginning with “Hong Kong”, authentic Chinese instrumentation and a whole arena’s worth of iPhone flashlights glistening from the stands. It’s this unprompted magic which indelibly stays in the mind, long after the house lights have gone up.
30 songs later, after an enormous amount of guest talent, and songs spanning a 16-year career, Gorillaz bow out. Credit has to go to Damon Albarn, the ringleader who assembled this ensemble cast of collaborators, and his ability to know just when to steer the show and when to sit back and let others take the limelight. It’s hard to single out any one moment as being tonight’s highlight, but it’s almost impossible to imagine anybody from the audience going home without having had a standout track, a favourite guest collaborator, a memory that’ll be hard to beat. If Humanz was the year’s playlist, then Monday night could’ve been the party of the year.
Josh Will Eden