Gorillaz Stun “Shy-Town” Crowd: Concert Review

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By Alexander Kloss

On one of their final concerts of the ongoing Now Now Tour, Blur frontman Damon Albarn's genre-fusing virtual band Gorillaz lit up Chicago's United Center with a fulminant two-hour spectacle ripe with the best that the group has to offer.

Gorillaz set the show’s pace at a “thousand miles an hour” straight from their opener “M1 A1,” the closing song off their eponymous 2001 debut album. What followed was a potpourri of the band’s entire repertoire, including tracks from six different albums within the first seven songs. Early gems of the night’s setlist included “Last Living Souls,” “Tomorrow Comes Today,” and “Every Planet We Reach Is Dead,” with their recent smash hit “Humility” following right after. Clips from the band’s music videos projected on a super-sized screen on stage provided the show with entertaining visual support. Special introductions were used for the evening’s most crucial moments of the evening, such as when cueing their breathtaking performance of “On Melancholy Hill.” The lead-in showed a hectic butler trying to escort band member Noodle to the lifeboats during a pirate attack on their ship, and her responding by whipping out a Tommy Gun and taking matters into her own hands, the electronic opening beats accentuating her gunshots, piercing the set right in the middle.

Since Albarn loves collaborating with other artists, it came as no surprise that a few special guests showed up to give him a hand (or voice) on stage that night: Hip-hop trio De La Soul performed their original parts for both “Superfast Jellyfish” and perhaps Gorillaz’ most well-known track, “Feel Good Inc.,” while Bootie Brown rapped on “Dirty Harry” and “Stylo.” Other guest performers included Peven Everett, Jamie Principle, and Michelle Ndegwa.

Chicago appears to hold a special place in Albarn’s heart: it served as the two-day opener of the Humanz tour last year and even received its own lyrical homage with “Shy-Town” off the 2010 album The Fall. Making good on his tacit promise, Albarn celebrated his return to the Windy City by pulling out his melodica and performing the piece live on stage for the first (and potentially only) time—a moment that few fans will forget.

Constantly shifting between vocals, guitar, piano, melodica, and even wearing a fan-made Noodle mask during “Kids With Guns,” Albarn seems to have lost none of his juvenile enthusiasm for what he does on stage. This uninhibited zeal clearly rubs off on his fellow band members (of which there were a good dozen) and the audience. Every song seemed like another opportunity for him to pump up the crowd, every strung chord another revelation to his followers, and every sung note proof that he’s still got it.

In terms of criticism, no major letdowns come to mind. While the balance of songs, both in terms of pacing and between the different albums, was quite befitting, it could have featured some of the stronger songs off Humanz (such as replacing “Saturnz Barz” or “Strobelite” with “Let Me Out” or “We Got the Power”). Other than that, “DARE” was the only substantial  piece missing in the setlist. However, this might be understandable given the the slightly dubious track record of its live performances.

Earlier this month, Albarn stated that after back-to-back album releases with Humanz in  April 2017 and The Now Now in June 2018, he will be taking a hiatus from Gorillaz to focus on different projects, most notably his alternative rock supergroup The Good, The Bad & The Queen. He jested in one interview that it’s “probably going to be another 10 years” until he reunites 2-D, Murdoc (currently imprisoned and replaced by Ace from Powerpuff Girls), Russel, and Noodle for another album, but whether this is truly set in stone remains to be seen. In another recent statement, he declared that if “he gets the time and if anyone wants it, it’s there.” I think it’s safe to say that Albarn can rest assured that there are plenty of people that will be waiting to feel good (inc) and get lost in heaven with him one more time.

Give a listen to the full setlist on Spotify!

MusicNoah Franklin