have long been recognized as the world's premier virtual band. The proposition of seeing a virtual band play in reality is every bit as confusing as it is exciting. After all, what could a quartet of cartoons actually do live? We were lucky enough to see first hand last night at Festival Pier in Philadelphia.
In reality, Gorillaz is the work of former Blur frontman Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett. Since 1998, Albarn's music has constantly paved new paths, through a constant desire to experiment and collaborate. Gorillaz first two albums, 2001's Gorillaz
and 2005's Demon Days
, are critically and commercially two of the decade's finest albums. Last night, in support of their new album Humanz
, they made their return to Philadelphia after seven years away.
The most notable aspect of Gorillaz is that they are a "virtual" band, something that occasionally seems to outshine the music. But last night, it was clear that they very much prided themselves as a live act. Sure, animated videos of Hewlett's characters (2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodie and Russel Hobbs) were featured in the background of nearly every song performed. But the "IRL" Gorillaz were doing some pretty incredible things on the actual stage. At nearly all times, there were thirteen people on stage, including two drummers and six backup singers. A band with a member tally in the double digits just is not something you see everyday, especially not a band that makes such amorphous music like Gorillaz. Naturally, the sheer amount of music happening muddled the sound a bit, but overall, the sound quality was frankly incredible considering all of the pieces going into it.
Ideally, Gorillaz's brand of danceable electronic rock is suited for the studio, but the band absolutely brought it live. "Stylo," with the exception of the late Bobby Womack's absence, sounded on par with the studio recording. The upbeat dance track "Andromeda" had legitimately the entire crowd moving. After the song, Albarn even commented "you're feeling that." On a variety of occasions, when the band was without a featured artist, they were shown performing on screen with the band. Savage's Jehnny Beth, for instance, joined in on-screen for "We Got the Power," which is just another cool part of Gorillaz's live show. More considerable, however, are all of the actual guests featured live. Vince Staples, Kilo Kish, Even Everett, Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz, all of who contributed to Humanz
, joined the band on-stage over the course of the night. The onslaught of guests towards the end of the set (three of the final four songs featured four different artists) was almost overwhelming, but the crowd responded with warmth after each song.
One of the most staggering things about the concert was also the biggest disappointment: they didn't play their biggest hit, "Feel Good Inc." It's tricky, because the song featured the absent hip-hop trio De La Soul. Yet, Gorillaz still managed "Clint Eastwood," replacing Del the Funky Homosapien with Vince Staples live. And this is not a situation like Radiohead not playing their biggest hit, "Creep," because they have so many great (better) songs. "Feel Good Inc." is a killer tune and one that everyone wanted to hear. It is important to note that "Feel Good Inc." has been absent throughout the Humanz
tour, but it still clearly disappointed the many who remained waiting well after the band's final song, "Demon Days."
Despite the lack of "Feel Good Inc.," it was clear that the crowd was largely satisfied with the performance. The crowd itself featured lots of folks ranging from their teens to their thirties, and all braved the terrible weather to see the group. By and large, they were not disappointed. It's difficult to say what the performance would have been without the on-going cartoon show in the background, but I think Gorillaz could have gotten by just fine without it. The love between the stage and crowd was mutual, and that was based in the live music far more than any projection.