Words: Doug Phillips
A restriction-free O2 Arena hosts the Gorillaz and a bustling roster of their friends for a joyous reunion of live music. This was the first full show at the O2 Arena since March 2020, although the night before, the band performed a free show for NHS workers.
Gorillaz opens the vibrant, electric show in a familiar fashion, with the borderline deep cut, ‘M1 A1’ from their eponymous 2001 debut. The track repeatedly calls out to the crowd ‘Hello! Is anyone there?’ as the anthemic opener bubbles and builds with grumbling guitar from Jeff Wootton. To begin with, only the rowdy standing audience answers the call with thrown plastic pints and a sea of bouncing heads. The seated audience politely nod their heads, wishing they were down in the pits immersed in the noise and the chaos of one of Gorillaz’ heaviest tracks.
Damon Albarn addresses the crowd after the powerful entrance saying: “It’s such a joy to be back!” the sentiment of which was certainly relayed by the core band, backing singers and crew alike, as the resulting show was one of euphoria and celebration.
The Cure’s Robert Smith whets the audience’s appetite and expectations for two decades worth of legendary features with the title track of 2020’s Song Machine Season 1, ‘Strange Timez‘. The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee sounded immaculate as he belted out the harrowing choruses for the swirling single.
The first reference to 2005’s Demon Days via ‘Last Living Souls‘ finally gets a few of the seated members up before the band gives the overshadowed The Now Now album some love with the upbeat synth-rock track, ‘Tranz‘. Iconic bassist, Peter Hook blesses the rolling bass-line of ‘Aries‘ with his talents after resident bassist Seye Adelekan pays his respects with a fist bump.
Leee John from ‘Imagination’ fame spun, twirled and high-kicked his way across the stage for his falsetto vocal performance in ‘The Lost Chord‘, made surreal as his sea monster depiction from the track’s music video shoots lasers out of his eyes on the giant screen behind him. Another eccentric and special act that Damon has helped to introduce to the mainstream is Ivory Coast’s Fatoumata Diawara who sang her heart out for the enchanting ‘Desolé‘. The heart-felt performance of the 2010 hit ‘On Melancholy Hill‘ seemed to have made the audience fall in love with the track all over again as the crowd were delighted as soon as the music video’s introduction began.
American hip-hop duo EARTHGANG made two appearances, firstly on their progressive dance track, ‘Opium‘ and secondly, covering for Mos Def’s rapping on ‘Stylo‘. Damon and the crew also made sure not to miss the opportunity to honour the memory of Bobby Womack with a photo on the screens of the soul legend who also features his talent on the track.
Damon then proceeded to both tease and indulge the crowd with three back-to-back new, unreleased tracks. Beginning with the uncontainable dedication to carnival, ‘Meanwhile‘, which featured a new emergent in UK hip-hop, Jelani Blackman along with The Mangrove Steelband. Jelani’s rapping is assured, intentional and full of energy, not unlike another surprise feature in the form of North London’s Little Simz for ‘Garage Palace‘. ‘Garage Palace’ was a flurry of rapping, empowered by Femi Koleoso’s chest-thumping drums, (much like the rest of the setlist). Alicai Harley also joined forces with the Mangrove Steelband with the celebratory ‘Déjà Vu‘.
The slightly threatening verse from Gorillaz’ biggest hit, ‘Feel Good Inc‘ was performed by original feature, De La Soul’s Pos whose performance had around 17,000 people maniacally laughing in unison. Pos wasn’t the only legend to grace the stage for the final leg of the night as Shaun Rider performed an almost disappointingly sober and excellent rendition of ‘DARE‘ with Rosie Wilson. And much like he did on January’s virtual live show, Sweetie Irie got the crowd’s blood pumping one last time, including all who were stubbornly seated at first, with his loved, upbeat remix of ‘Clint Eastwood‘ which was joined by almost all previously mentioned guests.
The show was closed just as the iconic Demon Days album does, with a heavenly double dose of ‘Don’t Get Lost in Heaven‘ and ‘Demon Days‘, which made for just as an effective and glorious closer to the night. The multi-genre sensation of Gorillaz couldn’t have provided a better soundtrack to the thousands of people who haven’t been involved in such a wide-scale celebration in almost a year and a half.
Check out other upcoming tour dates for the Gorillaz and get your tickets here!