Damon Albarn brought his ongoing multimedia pop music extravaganza Gorillaz to a soggy and somewhat salty Festival Pier last night, and if the test of a live act’s worth is its ability to transform crummy situations, Albarn and crew handily passed.
The gig got underway about a half hour behind schedule due to thunder and lightning hovering in the skies overhead; early arrivers at Festival Pier had to be evacuated from the site, and the crowd of thousands lined Delaware Avenue for a solid mile north to south, waiting to get back in.
Many fans were still making their way through when dynamic Long Beach rapper Vince Staples played his opening set; hot takes on the situation were all over social media. Thankfully, Staples turned up at a couple intervals during Gorillaz’s headlining performance, spitting bars on “Ascension” from this year’s Humanz, as well as a particularly tight verse on “Clint Eastwood” from the band’s 2001 self-titled debut.
Other guests came and went in addition to the 13-piece Gorillaz band: most notably, Kilo Kish sang the infectious hook on “19/2000” and traded verses with Zebra Katz on “Out of Body,” while vocalist Peven Everett impressively handled Bobby Womak’s part on the suave “Stylo” and his own verse on “Strobelite.” Rapper Jamie Principle joined in the fray as well for his verse on Humanz’s “Sex Murder Party.”
Other vocals guests from the albums were not in the house in person, but their songs were still performed — the benefits of a being a self-styled “virtual band.” This sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t; as dope of a song as “Saturnz Barz” is, Popcann‘s projected image was lacking the energy of the MCs physically present on stage. Those projections were sometimes dazzling, make no mistake, but also felt at points like we were pretty much just watching the music videos on a very large screen. That said, Jhenny Beth‘s contribution to “We Got the Power” found the Savages frontwoman twenty feet tall and commanding the crowd in digital form, and it was glorious.
Then there was Albarn himself. Much as Gorillaz is his project, and much as he clearly relishes the spotlight, he seems just as content to cede it to the dozens of talented people on the road with him — or share it, anyway, as in his awkwardly charming dad-dancing with Kilo Kish. In all seriousness, though, Albarn is a master hype man, and we saw that at play most directly in “Andromeda” where he asked the band to quiet down, and had the crowd clap gently along, gradually increasing in volume and pace until the song’s ecstatic peak found the better part of the 8,000 people gathered on the Pier leaping in union.
If we were salty about the rain earlier, it that moment all was forgotten. Check out photos from the show, the setlist and a couple fan videos below.
Phoenix on the Hill
Ascension (with Vince Staples)
Last Living Souls
19/2000 (with Kilo Kish)
Busted and Blue
Strobelite (with Peven Everett)
Sex Murder Party (with Jamie Principle)
Out of Body (with Kilo Kish and Zebra Katz)
We Got the Power
Stylo / (with Peven Everett)
Kids With Guns
Clint Eastwood / (with Vince Staples)
Don’t Get Lost in Heaven
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