Yes, technically the official band members of the the cartoon group are animated. Thus, barring the rapidly evolving hologram technology, those characters are represented on a large screen directly behind the stage. But, flesh and blood musicians are present, such as singer/cofounder Damon Albarn, guitar players, a drummer and other real-life folks.
Beyond the theatrics and debates about what to expect from the group, the music was phenomenal. Sometimes live songs sound nothing like their studio-recorded counterparts, and I don’t say this lightly. Even the great Kendrick Lamar fails to live up to his recorded playfulness live, instead opting to rap more or less in his normal voice.
Part of the magic of Gorillaz isn’t the band though – it’s the guest spots. Humanz is even more like this than their other works because the concept of the album is a party; a celebration that happens to take place during the cataclysmic end of the world. Features on the album include Vince Staples, Danny Brown, Mavis Staples, Pusha T, De La Soul and countless others. The album essentially has a guest performer on every track, and the concert reflects this, as if these guys are simply making the rounds at this apocalyptic get together.
On the lawn stood the gawkers – the audience members – and Merriweather was insanely packed with them. People of all ages and walks of life crowded under the pavilion and on the lawn in order to get loud with these rotating musicians, who’ve reached the peak of their own respective genres, including Albarn.
The group played old classics like “On Melancholy Hill,” “Rhinestone Eyes” and “Clint Eastwood,” but the powerful songs were from Humanz. How Jamie Principle sang the chorus to “Sex Murder Party” actually made people in the crowd stop and wonder if that sounded like a logical thing for people to do, or the endless energy displayed by Vince Staples during “Ascension,” even though he performed an entire set on his own (in the dark no less) shortly before that.
The highlight was probably when Pusha T emerged from backstage for “Let Me Out,” which featured a huge video representation of gospel legend Mavis Staples behind the humans performing live. For fans to see King Push, a Virginia Beach native, so close to home at our version of this shindig was special.
In the end, there were more than cartoons – there were rappers, Albarn and tons of other musicians dancing onstage. Hell, even Bruce Willis made an appearance with one of the videos accompanying the song. The premise of the album lends itself to a live show, because when you see Gorillaz live, it’s more than just a cartoon foursome, or a performance – it’s a party.
For more information on Gorillaz, check out their website.