Damon Albarn returned to the stage last night with his Gorillaz project in tow to premiere their upcoming album Humanz in their first live show since 2010.
Held at South London’s cavernous Printworks venue, the band joined the stage piece by piece to the sounds of a classic Detroit techno-style instrumental before Albarn set the tone for the night. Dressed in all black alongside his band – consisting of two drummers and a prominent six-piece choir – he announced that the entirety of next month’s Humanz would be performed with “pretty much” every guest on the album. Of those guests, Grace Jones, Popcaan, Mavis Staples and Vince Staples were represented through video screens, although Albarn promised that the full guest cast would be present at their self-curated Margate show in June.
However, this did not appear to be a dress rehearsal for the year ahead, what with the show being simultaneously streamed via the Gorillaz Facebook page for those unlucky to get tickets from Thursday’s online ballot. From reports last year, Albarn had promised that the music would be “upbeat” and with “quite a lot of energy”, and he did not disappoint – even throughout its minor key second half, Humanz sounds particularly energetic. From the opener ‘Ascension’ through to closer ‘We Got the Power’, the music at times presented an arena-sized concoction of Minneapolis funk, New Romantic synth-pop and hip-hop, continuing in the genre shapeshifting that has marked the Gorillaz’ discography.
The guests – flanked by a screen flashing checkboard motifs as well as co-creator Jamie Hewlett’s designs for the band’s cartoon avatars through the years – ranged across genres. Most notably, the stage was shared by Blur’s Graham Coxon (alongside a white-clad Kelela and Danny Brown during the R&B-infused ‘Submission’) and Noel Gallagher, formerly of Oasis (for ‘Power’ with Savages vocalist Jehnny Beth). While not the first time these former Britpop adversaries have performed alongside each other, it still was a shock to see a keytar-bound Albarn grinning as Gallagher played rhythm guitar, and an example of Albarn’s communicative welcoming approach to his many collaborators.
Following a run-through of the album that included a repeat performance of Pusha/Staples collaboration ‘Let Me Out’ demanded by the audience, the band began its first of two encores, laying out fan-favourites and hits alike: ‘Kids With Guns’, ‘Feel Good Inc.’ with De La Soul, ‘Clint Eastwood’ alongside Del tha Funkee Homosapien. Yet it was at the close of this encore – where Albarn introduced and extended thanks to album producers Twilite Tone and Remi Kabaka – and at the end of the second encore, where every performer came stage, that the evening felt particularly special. Albarn thanked everyone on stage again for their contributions to the evening and to Humanz following a rendition of Demon Days’ ‘Don’t Get Lost in Heaven’, and the moment was touching, a sign of shared creative triumph. They plan to do it again soon in Margate, but next time round, Humanz will have grown familiar. One can only imagine what he and Hewlett (glimpsed cheering during the second encore) pull off at that point.