Damon Albarn is a name you might not be familiar with, but I can guarantee that you know at least some of his work. Not only is he the brain behind Gorillaz as a whole, but he’s also the singer of Blur, a member of many supergroups, a philanthropist, actor, and the list goes on. Knowing all of that, I had high expectations when I arrived at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium on Wednesday… and those expectations were blown out of the water harder than I ever could have expected.
Once we were allowed in the doors, I somehow managed to make it onto the barricade- just about front and center. I found myself cursing Stubhub when I noticed the heaps of empty seats right before the first opener hit the stage. This show sold out immediately back in April and, of course, there were tickets available for resale for nearly ten times the original price minutes later. Those who were there, though, certainly didn’t lack enthusiasm. I saw tons of “OG” Gorillaz shirts, custom hats, and whole families wearing face paint.
The first opener was Vince Staples, a young rapper from Long Beach. He entered the stage alone, emerging from huge clouds of fog which stuck around for the entirety of his set. His voice was reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar as he sang of his rough upbringing, amongst other subjects. Behind him, warm toned projections of fish, cars, and roads lit up the stage. “Twin Cities, make some noise for me if you’re in love right now,” he asked of the crowd before playing one of his more iconic songs “Love Can Be…” He left the stage graciously and the house lights once again got bright.
When the second opener, Danny Brown, hit the stage I was pretty weary of what I was about to experience. Although I had seen him perform in passing at Soundset a few years ago, the wild stories of his past Minneapolis shows left me with no idea of what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised when he took the stage and played songs I immediately recognized. The highlights of his set for me were “25 Bucks,” and “Really Doe,” which showcased a little bit of his past but also got the crowd jumping and singing along. His DJ hyped him up from the side of the stage while wrangling a speaker that wouldn’t stay still due to everything vibrating wit kick of the bass. He left the stage and things quickly began to transform.
I took another moment to look around after Danny Brown’s set ended. To my pleasant surprise, the seats were much fuller and I was surrounded by faces of people just as excited as me. There was half an hour until Gorillaz would take the stage, but the people watching material was A grade. There was a very young child to the left of me, grilling his big brother on what he should expect and asking if he was allowed to take pictures on his iPod touch. Behind me stood two teenagers gushing over what they hoped the setlist would be, preparing to sing along to every word they heard. (Spoiler alert: they did indeed scream along with every syllable.)
At 9:15 on the dot, after what felt like days of waiting, everything went dark. A circular screen hanging from the ceiling lit up like the top of a microphone and a familiar voice boomed out. Over ten band members, including a six person choir and two drummers, filed onto the stage. Immediately, they played M1-A1, a personal favorite from their 2001 self titled album. Damon Albarn dressed simply, like he was ready to make a Target run in jeans and a t-shirt with a very calm but proud demeanor. As they ran through songs from every album, screens behind them showed the iconic animations of Murdoc, Russel, 2-D, and Noodle. They played “Every Planet We Reach is Dead” six songs into the set for the first time since 2006. The audience freaked out, and understandably so. The six person choir that stood behind everyone else, dressed in black and looking like shadows, sang along powerfully and gave the song a sense of gravity that I had never found in it before.
There was a lot happening on the stage, but it was all so cohesive that I didn’t feel like I was missing anything at all. The visuals matched with the musicians who moved with the lightshow that worked with the special guests. Damon Albarn was the conductor that was directing and holding together the impressive madness that was happening on stage- and he wasn’t missing a beat.
They played a few more (amazing) songs, and then began a string of epic guest appearances. First up was opener Vince Staples, who performed on the song “Ascension,” from their most recent album, “Humanz.” Peven Everett, Danny Brown, Little Simz, and Camille Berthomier also joined the ensemble on stage to perform collaborative songs that they had released in the past. Last- but most definitely not least- De La Soul showed up! First to play “Superfast Jellyfish,” one of the most fun Gorillaz songs, if you ask me. And then again, during the encore.
When the band left the stage for the first time, they nodded and waved kindly, but everyone knew they’d be back. While the crowd chanted “One more song,’” as crowds do, the little boy next to me screamed “ONE MORE TIME!” until his older brother corrected him. They walked back out onto the stage and rolled into a 5 song encore. De La Soul rejoined for Feel Good Inc. after joking around with Damon for a few minutes, reminding the audience that Albarn isn’t just a music whiz- he’s a goofy friend, too. They closed the show with “Demon Days,” which I expected but clearly made everyone’s night just *that* much better.
As the lights came on and people filed out either to their homes or to the merch table, I waited around to people watch one more time. For the first time in a long time, no one was shoving their way around slow walkers or complaining about that “suuuuuper annoying drunk girl behind them.” It was refreshing to know that I wasn’t the only time who had had the time of their life.