September 21, 2022
Photos by Ashleigh Castro
For anyone around in the year 2005, Gorillaz need no introduction. If you listened to the radio that year, you of course heard “Feel Good, Inc.” nearly every single day. Hell, if you listen to the radio now you’re going to hear “Feel Good, Inc.” every day. The brainchild of Blur frontman Damon Albarn and Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett, the virtual band is gearing up to release their eighth studio album, Cracker Island, in February of next year, and have hit the road with their current live iteration in promotion of it.
At the Chase Center in San Francisco, Damon and the full live band of six instrumentalists and five backing singers, took the stage under the giant screen over the stage, flashing the word “HELLO” continuously, before jumping straight into “M1 A1,” the closing song on the band’s self-titled debut album. The crowd was immediately whipped into a fury, Damon rushing down a set of makeshift steps in front of the stage to engage with the front row. Following that was the more somber “Last Living Souls” from 2005’s Demon Days, which was met with even more thunderous applause.
What followed was a 26-song, two-hour career-spanning set from Gorillaz. The only album that didn’t see anything performed from it was 2010’s The Fall, but every other studio album had at least one song from them played at the show. And what a show it was. Despite the size of the Chase Center, Damon and company still made the massive venue feel intimate. Songs like “O Green World” and “Rhinestone Eyes” still packed their emotional punch, while other more livelier songs like “Tranz” and the recent “Cracker Island” kept the crowd jumping and dancing on their feet.
Included in the setlist was a new song, “Skinny Ape,” which Damon claimed to have been inspired by “one of those wonderful things that come out of the Silicon Valley. The Amazon robot that walks up and down the road and delivers things.” The song was incredibly well-received by the audience, and I can’t wait to hear the studio version on the upcoming Cracker Island album.
I’m not going to lie, I shed a tear a couple of times during the show. “On Melancholy Hill,” a song that I always viewed as a pretty good pop song, tugged at my heart strings like it was nobody’s business, Damon’s pleas of “‘Cause you are my medicine when you’re close to me” punching me in the gut. Of course the song that followed, “El Mañana,” is a song that’s always brought out the waterworks for me, and seeing it live was no exception. Perhaps because of my deep emotional attachment to that song, it was one of the highlights of the evening for me.
While the first section of the setlist was focused more on album tracks and lesser-known singles, such as “Empire Ants” “New Genious (Brother)” (a song that received its live debut on this tour), a little over the halfway point Gorillaz started bringing out their special guests of the evening. First up was openers EARTHGANG, joining in on the song “Opium,” followed by Fatoumata Diawara, dueting the gorgeous “Désolé” with Damon, both songs from the recent album Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez.
Two songs later, during “Dirty Harry,” who should come out to join the band but the original featured rapper on the song, Bootie Brown! As he ran out onstage and began firing off his incendiary bars, the crowd went absolutely wild. It was a sight to behold. A couple more songs later, none other than Posdnuos of De La Soul came out. “I want you all to repeat after me!” He said to the crowd. “Nobody is going to tell me how I feel. Nobody is going to tell me what to think. Nobody is going to tell me what words to sing, unless it’s Damon Albarn.” The crowd repeated every prompt before the opening bassline of “Feel Good, Inc.” roared through the venue, followed immediately by a roar of applause. Seeing one of the members of De La Soul physically onstage with Gorillaz and performing this song with them was a dream come true for me.
And then eventually came the encore. Two more songs were played with Bootie Brown, “New Gold” and “Stylo,” before Damon claimed that they had a very special guest. None other than one of the original Gorillaz collaborators, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien. The crowd erupted into applause. They seemed to know what they were about to witness. Two horn players came onstage before Damon said, “We’re going to do something we haven’t done for 20 years, and have never done with Del before.” The horns and the rest of the band started “Rock The House,” a single from their first album, with Del covering all of the vocals as Damon sat at his piano.
After “Rock The House” finished, Damon picked up a nearby melodica and played the main melody of the band’s first single, “Clint Eastwood,” the rest of the band soon joining in behind him. Damon sang the familiar opening lines, “I ain’t happy, I’m feeling glad / I got sunshine in a bag,” the audience yelling the words right back at him. Del flew into the song and hit every line like he had been rapping the song for years since he originally laid down his verses in 2001. As the song began coming to a close, Del ran off the stage, only for one last special guest to take his place: Sweetie Irie. Soon “Clint Eastwood” was transformed into the “Ed Case and Sweetie Irie Refix” remix from the single release, stretching the originally six-minute song into a 15-minute juggernaut. Finally, running 10 minutes past curfew, Gorillaz finished off the show with a bow before leaving the stage.
Opening act EARTHGANG, the Atlantan hip hop duo, were astounding and were a fantastic start to the evening. Songs like “Proud Of U” and “Up” are class act slices of hip hop, with the duo’s breakneck delivery and optimistic lyrics being a perfect combination. Joined by a live drummer, bassist, and keyboardist, Olu, and WowGr8 brought the energy of the crowd up, and they gained at least one fan during that set in myself. I hope to see them performing a headlining set sooner rather than later.