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Gorillaz

Gorillaz is the world’s most famous virtual band.

 

I remember when the song “Clint Eastwood” came out in 2001. It’s one of those songs that gets in your head and you can’t get it out. Call it an earworm.  Call it catchy.  You find yourself singing it when you’re in the shower or in the line at the supermarket, or it’s the first thing that pops in your head when you wake up in the morning. I didn’t know anything about the band that had recorded the song, other than their name was Gorillaz. Fast forward a few years, and in 2005, Gorillaz released two more songs that got in my head – “DARE” and “Feel Good Inc.”. But, I still didn’t really understand what Gorillaz was. Is it a band? Is it a cartoon? Keep reading to find out!

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Band Background

Gorillaz is actually known as a “virtual band”, and was formed in 1998. What exactly is a “virtual band”? Well, the band was created by musician Damon Albarn (formerly of the British band “Blur”) and artist Jamie Hewlett. Albarn and Hewlett created fictional, animated band members: 2-D (lead vocals, keyboards), Murdoc Niccals (bass guitar), Noodle (guitar, keyboards), and Russel Hobbs (drums and percussion).

The cartoon characters created by Hewlett play an important role in the video screen playing behind the musicians at a Gorillaz concert.

 

The band’s career is broken out in phases. Phase One (2000–03) is called “Celebrity Take Down”. They released their hit single – “Clint Eastwood” – in 2000. In 2001, they release their first full-length studio album – “Gorillaz” – which ended up selling over seven million copies, and landed them in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Most Successful Virtual Band. During this time, when the band performed live, the fictional characters appeared in 3D animation on large video screens. No human band members were seen. In 2002, they released a DVD titled “Phase One: Celebrity Take Down”, which gave this phase its name.

Phase Two (2004–07) is known as “Slowboat to Hades”. During this phase, the band released the album “Demon Days”, which has sold over six million copies. The Gorillaz characters went holographic during this time, and appeared on stage during shows as virtual characters. It was also during this phase, that the singles “DARE” and “Feel Good Inc.” were released. The “Phase Two: Slowboat to Hades” DVD was released in 2006.

Phase Three (2007–13) was marked by the release of their album “Plastic Beach” in 2007. As such, the phase was named “Escape to Plastic Beach”. The album features huge guest artists like Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, and De La Soul, amongst others. The band enjoyed success with the album, as well as several side ventures such as an app and Gorillaz-branded Converse shoes. Additionally, the role of the fictional characters during live shows started getting smaller and smaller, and the role of the live musicians started getting bigger and bigger. By 2012, Albarn and Hewlett were not getting along, mostly due to the fact that Hewlett felt that the diminishing role of the cartoon characters was diminishing his role in the band as well.

Phase Four (2014–present) is known as “We Are Still Humanz”. Starting in 2014, Albarn began talking about a new Gorillaz album (the last album was the Plastic Beach album released in 2007). The album “Humanz” was finally released in April of 2017, and resulted in the current world tour.  You can download the album Humanz here.

 

The Show

The show at Festival Pier on Thursday night marked the first time the Gorillaz had performed in Philadelphia for almost 7 years. The highly-anticipated show was sold out. With my knowledge of Gorillaz mostly coming from their hits in the early to mid-2000’s, I was surprised to see how many really young people were in the crowd.  Gorillaz clearly has a young following that are as much into the whole concept of the Gorillaz, as they are the music.  Vince Staples, who performs as a guest artist on Humanz, was scheduled as the opening act.

Since the show was on a weekday and I had to go to my “real day job”, we planned on getting to the venue right around 7:30, thinking that we would catch the last few songs of Staples’ set (he was scheduled to go on stage at 7:30), and be situated and ready for the Gorillaz. We hit some rain on the way to the venue, and storms were in the forecast. When we got close to the venue, we saw a massive line of people along Delaware Avenue that appeared to be waiting to go in. As the doors were supposed to open at 6:30 p.m. and it was after 7:30 p.m., this didn’t make a lot of sense. After a quick search on Twitter by my husband, we realized that they had evacuated the venue due to severe weather in the area, and everyone was in line waiting to get back in.

We were able to find some parking in the neighborhood several blocks away from the venue, and made our way to the end of the very long line of people waiting to get back in. It took nearly an hour for us to get through the line and inside, and there was still a pretty long line behind us. Because it took so long to get in, we missed Staples’ entire set. Thankfully, we were able to get in prior to Gorillaz taking the stage.

While the early days of the band were about the cartoon characters, the current Humanz tour is more about Albarn and the musicians. Albarn comes on stage with a full band, including 7 back-up singers. There is also a huge video screen, where the cartoon characters still play a part during the show, along with spectacular lighting.

Silhouettes of the band onstage, with the large video screen behind them.

 

The show kicked off with “M1 A1”, and then went into  “Ascension”, which brought Vince Staples back on stage on guest vocals. The guest appearances continued throughout the night with Kilo Kish on “19/2000” and “Out of Body”, Peven Everett on “Strobelight”, and Jamie Principle on “Sex Murder Party”.

Even when a guest artist wasn’t there in person, the Gorillaz came up with unique ways to incorporate them in the show. On “Saturnz Barz”, guest vocalist and Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan appeared in a pre-recorded video that ran on the video screens.

Of course, the minute I head the first notes of “DARE” towards the end of the set, I went crazy with the rest of the crowd. My wish list for the show was to hear “DARE”, “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc.”, so I was happy to finally get one of the three.

Gorillaz wrapped up the set with “We Got the Power”. They walked off the stage leaving the crowd wanting more, particularly after they had dealt with storm evacuations, long lines, and rain. After just a short break, Gorillaz came back out and kicked off their encore with “Stylo” featuring Peven Everett again, and then went immediately into “Kids With Guns”.

After thanking the crowd for being such an amazing audience, Almard played the distinct notes that meant we were getting “Clint Eastwood”. Another score for me, as I had now heard two of the three songs on my wish list!

 

The encore set wrapped up with “Demon Days”. In total, Gorillaz played 20 songs, which was four or five songs less than they had been playing in previous shows. It appears that the 30 minute delay in the start due to the weather led to them cutting a few songs. However, what they played was amazing. The show is definitely a spectacle worth seeing.

The last image on the video screen as Gorillaz wrapped up their show.

 

Gorillaz will be continuing the U.S. leg of their Humanz tour throughout October (with a quick trip to Japan and Korea for a couple of festivals). They will be in Europe throughout the month of November into the beginning of December, and then wrap up their 2017 tour dates with a couple of shows in South America. You can find information on all of their upcoming shows at www.gorillaz.com.

Set List: M1 A1, Ascension (with Vince Staples), Last Living Souls, Saturnz Barz, Rhinestone Eyes, Sleeping Powder, 19/2000 (with Kilo Kish), Busted and Blue, El Manana, Strobelite (with Peven Everett), Andromeda, Sex Murder Party (with Jamie Principle), Out of Body (with Kilo Kish), DARE, We Got the Power Encore: Stylo (with Peven Everett), Kids with Guns, Clint Eastwood (with Vince Staples), Don’t Get Lost in Heaven, Demon Days

 

Have questions or comments about Gorillaz?  Comment below or e-mail me at tips2livebywriter@gmail.com. 

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