It’s becoming increasingly popular to put together a live show experience to stream to fans. Some artists put together one big show to bring to fans, but the late ’90s alternative rock band Gorillaz did an entire tour virtually. This weekend, Gorillaz finished their 2020 tour, Song Machine Live. With that “closing show” energy and the amazing set with incredible visuals and talent in the room, this performance did not disappoint!
This show felt very much like a real concert that people would have seen on stage. The scale of this show was vast and very spread out (perfect for those COVID-19 restrictions!). There were many musicians and instruments of all kinds: drums, keys, piano, synths, bass, several percussive instruments like bongos and xylophones, as well as a melodica, a keytar and an omni-chord. There were several people on set and throughout the room, but it was all run by frontman Damon Albarn. The set was dressed with several props that made it look like the band was set up in an old alley or even an old arcade. Gorillaz are well known for the animations and cartoons that accompany their work—these animations were present throughout the show. There were even a few cut away scenes that featured two popular characters, 2-D and Murdoc. These very talented visual animations were done by Jamie Hewlett.
The show kicked off with the lead song from the 2020 album Song Machine, “Strange Timez.” A perfect title for a year like 2020, and a perfect way to kick off a very energetic and exciting performance. In the style of Gorillaz, this song featured those percussive and synth sound effects, as well as strong vocals. It was a great entrance as the camera panned around the room to show the virtual audience just how big of a set they were all on. There were people and performers scattered throughout the room. It almost felt like it just kept getting bigger, which was a cool camera trick. By the time the chorus hit, people could see the whole band scattered as well as a few crew members. Later it was revealed that there were about 120 people that helped to make such an event (and tour) possible.
The song “Pac-Man,” featuring Schoolboy Q (Song Machine, 2020), was accompanied by the animations and the style made to look like you were in an old arcade. This song is trippy with that classic ’90s bassy feel that the Gorillaz really emphasized in their 2005 album Demon Days. It was slower in tempo but made the atmosphere a little more chill, while still keeping the energy high.
A cool thing about this 2020 album is that it features so many different artists. Another featured artist on this album is Elton John. The song “The Pink Phantom” (Song Machine, 2020) begins and ends with a few piano chords before tossing in the synth sounds. The visuals and animations on the screen when Gorillaz performed this song had a cartoon version of Elton John at a piano. It was a cool way to pay homage to his addition to the song, while he wasn’t actually there with Gorillaz for this performance. This song is distinct in terms of the sound that Gorillaz usually have, but the bass and synths in the song make it just as fun and trippy.
Two of the songs later in the show, “Dead Butterflies” and “Désolé” (both from Song Machine, 2020), are also fun and different from that bassy and alternative sound that the Gorillaz normally take on, but they’re both two very catchy hits. “Dead Butterflies” features Kano and Roxani Arias, and “Désolé” features Fatoumata Diawara. Both songs incorporate a few lyrics in Spanish, which is a fun flare as compared to their other songs.
Having a sort of avant-garde style of creating music and performing definitely checks out for Gorillaz. Their song “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head” (Demon Days, 2005) is without a doubt one of those songs. This is more of a poetic story with those funky undertones. While not on the Song Machine album, it’s a fan favorite. This song thrown into the mix seem to fit so well. There was a special guest that came out to read the spoken word lyrics while the band played the music to back it up. The lighting in the room was darker, and the visuals were reminiscent of a mountain and the “village folk” the song talks about. This was a stand out moment in the performance for sure.
Closer to the end of the show, Damon Albarn wandered over to a smaller corner to play a few more songs with his band and had fewer instruments, but still had a very cool and full sound. This set felt more intimate and the camera didn’t have as many wide angels. The room was lit with eclectic-looking red lights and a few boxes with records around the room. It was simple but effective for creating that almost “unplugged” kind of feel.
Starting off on this b-stage/ b-set, Gorillaz performed the 2000 song “Dracula” from the self titled album Gorillaz. This song has influences of reggae and jazz. It was a very relaxing turn for the concert, but a nice way to bring back some of the older songs from when Gorillaz got their start. This song is on the shorter side, so it faded into the 2005 hit “Don’t Get Lost In Heaven” (Demon Days). It kept up with that slower tempo and reggae feel. It felt like one song put together.
Closing out the show, Damon showed the audience a very interesting instrument called an omni-chord. He explained how the buttons work and make beats and chords, and he looked right at the camera and said “I hit this button right here, and this happened”—and the intro music to the ever-popular 2000 song “Clint Eastwood” (Gorillaz) began. It was the repetitive piano chords and simple drum pattern that was instantly recognizable. This was the final song, and it was clear that everyone was having a great time and let loose with this one. As soon as Damon hit the button, he got up and danced back over to the larger set, and the band sped up the tempo, and repeated a few verses, which brought back that “final show” energy. It was a great way to close the show on such a high note.
This show was a very fun and upbeat performance. Gorillaz seem like they will absolutely be ready to hit the stage when things are safe again. As the green strobe lights dimmed while “Clint Eastwood” faded out, there were credits that thanked the entire cast and crew, as well as the viewers at home for sticking with them throughout this strange and virtual tour experience. Gorillaz were definitely making the most of these “Strange Timez” we’re all living in!