Northerly Island // Chicago, IL // July 8, 2017
It’s been seven years since Damon Albarn has toured with his virtual band Gorillaz, and fans have been waiting with bated breath to see them live. On July 8, Gorillaz kicked off their Humanz tour to a sold-out crowd at Northerly Island in Chicago, right along the lakefront. In previous shows, Albarn took a backseat as the frontman of the collaboration, letting graphics and projectors give Murdoc, 2d, Noodle, and Russel the limelight. The four fictional band members, each with their own lore and backstory, were created by Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett in 1998. Their debut album, Gorillaz, featured the wildly successful single “Clint Eastwood” and skyrocketed the band to the top of the charts.
This time, Albarn was in the spotlight for the whole show. The graphics for the show fit the vibe, but we didn’t see much of the original band members. Maybe now that the cat’s out of the bag, and Albarn has released five Gorillaz albums, it’s assumed people would rather see Albarn than an image on a screen. Nevertheless, the show was dynamite with nearly two hours of new songs, classic hits, and lesser-known tracks that Albarn dug up for the occasion. The Fall is the Gorillaz’ fourth studio album, and each track was written by Albarn on his laptop in a different city. While he didn’t play Chicago’s song “Pink Plastic Bags” in its entirety, he indulged the crowd in a bit of a singalong.
Gorillaz’s collaborations with all types of artists make their music more universal than most bands. Tons of incredible artists appear on four of their five studio albums (The Fall was solely Albarn) and were at the show Saturday night. Vince Staples opened the show with “Ascension,” while Del the Funky Homosapien came out during the encore and rapped his part of “Clint Eastwood.” The star power behind the Gorillaz albums does not take away from the core of the music, however. Albarn has never collaborated with someone for exposure; rather, those who appear on Gorillaz albums simply sound like another member of the band.
The show was fast-paced, visually striking, and filled with people who were ecstatic to be part of the experience. The audience ranged from older men and their wives to five year olds on top of their hipster mom’s shoulders. The Gorillaz’s tour continues this weekend in Quebec and Maryland before jetting off to Japan at the end of the month. Don’t worry, though: they’ll be back in the States from August to October.