Damon Albarn steps away from the spotlight, as his band of Humanz shine in a high-energy pre-apocalypse party in the animated band’s first show in Manchester in seven years.
There was once a mystique that surrounded the post-Blur project of Damon Albarn and co-conspirator, artist, Jamie Hewlett. Now though, in a time in which is difficult to continue mystery, the game is up and the band find themselves having to identify themselves. This however is more a blessing, than a curse, particularly in the cases of charismatic and energetic guitarist Jeff Wooton and bass player Seye Adelekan, who is an unsung hero.
Gorillaz open with ’M1A1’ from their eponymous debut album, this song alone sets the tone for the evening, with the band intent on showcasing why they have become masters of music for uncertain times. ‘Every Planet We Reach is Dead’ combines space pop, gospel soul, dub reggae, with the support of intoxicating visuals.
On ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ hip-hop legends De La Soul join the circus, of which, Albarn is the ringmaster. The set then reaches new heights, with emotive songs ‘On Melancholy Hill’ and ‘El Manana’.
The absence of Popcaan on ‘Saturn Barz’ is a forgivable one when Albarn takes a step back and introduces the audience to a carousel of performers, including Booty Brown on the high octane ‘Dirty Harry’, with an irresistible hook line – the backing of a choir of cartoon children.
Vince Staples, demonstrates why is he acclaimed and holds so much promise on the apocalyptic ‘Ascension’. Little Simz makes her own case for becoming London’s leading Female grime artist on ‘Garage Palace’. Jamie Principle and Zebra Kats are enigmatic, and introduce the audience to the unusual on ‘Sex Murder Party’ the darkest track of latest album ‘Humanz’.
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Of all the guests who contribute to this assault on the senses it’s Peven Everett who steals the show though with powerful vocals full of soul on dance anthem ‘Strobelite’ with Albarn stomping around him full of life on the keytar. Everett also faces the most tasking moment of the night by filling in the shoes of late – soul legend, Bobby Womack on ‘Stylo’, and he does so with success, above him a visual of Womack acts as a fitting tribute to the man.
By shining the spotlight elsewhere Albarn reminds of how he has outgrown his Britpop roots to become one of the UK’s greatest musical auteurs. The Gorillaz, even by Albarn’s standards, are eclectic. The puppet master of the project, however, does give himself to remind of his own qualities. Albarn faces a sea of lighter flames and mobile phone torches as he stands acoustic guitar in hand to deliver a powerful rendition of the poignant ‘Hong Kong’, and them presents another side of himself by walking halfway through the crowd manically delivering ‘Kids with Guns’.
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Gorillaz end with perhaps the most powerful weapon in their arsenal, the world renowned ‘Clint Eastwood’ which sees Albarn most at home with his beloved melodica in hand. ‘Don’t Get Lost in Heaven’ followed by the string and piano driven ‘Demon Days’ backed by a choir allows emotional reflection.
This project begun when Albarn and Hewlett became disillusioned with pop music, and they have proved that they can not only better it – but they are amongst the very best to do it.