“Hello?” an unearthly voice echoed around TD Garden last Tuesday, Oct. 11, mere seconds before Gorillaz appeared on stage. “Is anyone there?”
The stage, adorned with sparkly gold panels to commemorate the band’s newest single, “New Gold,” shimmered under dim lights as the word “HELLO” flashed on the giant screen. As the voice reached a crescendo of repetition, green lights started to illuminate the stage and the band jumped into the lively fan-favorite “M1A1.” The answer to “Hello?” was clear: Gorillaz had arrived, loud and singular as ever.
Gorillaz is a British virtual band originally created by singer/songwriter Damon Albarn — also known for his former band Blur — and artist Jamie Hewlett. Its four “members” include 2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle, and Russel Hobbs. These members are completely fictional, and the music is entirely Albarn’s work. The band is known for including a wide variety of genres and features, giving it a collaborative and modern feel.
Translating the concept of a virtual band into an engaging live performance can be challenging. The band has used a variety of strategies to aid their past shows, including holograms. However, on their latest tour Gorillaz have embraced their humanity. Damon Albarn headed the performance with about a dozen supporting musicians, including Seye Adelekan on bass and a back-up chorus starring Michelle Ndegwa.
Albarn used his physical presence with intention. He was very active with the crowd, parading through the middle of the pit, grabbing delighted fans by the arms, and briefly donning one crowd member’s hat. He brought a wild energy, flailing his arms and sticking out his tongue often. This was especially highlighted in “Last Living Souls” and “Rhinestone Eyes,” where Albarn hyped up the crowd during choruses.
Meanwhile, the backup band bounced happily to the groovy beats and the backdrop of glowing visuals. The primary visuals used were the band’s music videos and official visualizers. These videos were fully animated, portraying the virtual members. Albarn and 2-D (the virtual lead singer) sang in-sync, suggesting that the set list is carefully rehearsed to line up with the visuals.
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Although Albarn and the crew brought considerable energy to the performance, the visuals were strangely repetitive. Considering that the band has virtual members, the use of a concert venue’s screens is key. However, the visuals were pulled from previous music videos. Although they were beautifully animated, it did disappoint those searching for live original content.
Just as Gorillaz is known to genre-jump, the tone of the concert switched often. The setlist swung between high-energy songs and slower tracks, with Albarn showcasing both his skill to hype up a crowd and croon on the melodica. One especially quick energy shift occurred between “Opium” with openers EARTHGANG to “Desolé” with Fatoumata Diawara. EARTHGANG, a rap duet from Atlanta, ran on stage during “Opium,” their intensity shining like diamonds and constellations in a rainbow of color. Diawara slowed down the tempo during “Desolé,” grooving alongside Albarn as a calmer scene — animated ocean waves and a boat — were projected on the screen. In both cases, Albarn used the features as a chance to step back and showcase the talent of his guests, often gesturing proudly to his fellow artists.
These shifts in energy were key to creating a collaborative feeling to the concert. They were also accentuated by the inclusion of about half a dozen featured singers. Many people came and went onstage, backing up Albarn and sometimes taking over the song entirely, including Bootie Brown, Sweetie Irie, Rebecca Freckleton, Petra Luke, and members of De La Soul. The entrances of these artists, alongside those previously mentioned, kept the show lively. The chemistry between the various features was fun and invited the audience to sing along as if they were also part of the larger Gorillaz family. This energy reached a climax in the high-energy remix version of “Clint Eastwood” with Sweetie Irie, in which many different singers came together on stage to sing the ultimate song of the performance.
Overall, Gorillaz was able to deliver a unique collaborative performance — an attestation to the experience that Albarn has gained in live performance in the 24 years since the band was first formed. They managed to perform live fantastically despite being a digital band and showcased a variety of styles while maintaining a consistent energy. As a result, Gorillaz remain as they should be: perfectly singular and strange.