I remember listening to my first Gorillaz song when I was around 11 years old. Riding in the back of the car, “Clint Eastwood” played on the radio. The infectious combination of hip-hop lyrics and haunting vocals from Damon Albarn quickly turned me into a fan. Watching the music video for this and their other songs increased my interest — I found their cartoonish visuals awesome. Living in a different country at the time, I never would’ve imagined having the chance to see the band live. Many years later, what once seemed unlikely became a reality. Gorillaz announced they were coming to Seattle as part of their “Humanz” tour, so I purchased tickets the second they went on sale.
Sept. 30, they performed at KeyArena. I was excited when I arrived and saw hundreds of people lining up. The crowd was very diverse, full of people from different ethnicities and age groups. This speaks to the reach of the band, which has music that appeals to everyone. The lines moved quickly — I was inside the venue before 8 p.m., rushing to my seat to see the opening act.
Vince Staples — a fantastic and criminally underrated rapper — came to the stage. I was thrilled to see him, as he’s currently one of my favorite artists. Not many know Staples, so it was great to see an audience of thousands being exposed to his music. His style translated well to the big stage, with atmospheric beats blasting through the speakers and gritty lyrics full of energy. He performed several songs from his catalogue, including many from his recent album, “Big Fish Theory” (one of the best overall records of the year). The audience was loving it, following Staples’ directions like singing his choruses, helping them get hyped for what’s next.
There was roughly a 30 minute break until the main act started. I love these moments, as they give you time to catch your breath and build tension until the big reveal. At this point, KeyArena was packed with roughly 17,000 souls, all ready to see their cartoon heroes come to life. The lights turned-off, signaling the beginning of the show. The screens on stage showed images to accompany Gorillaz’s “M1 A1” from their first album. It was a fantastic choice for an opener, as it built momentum with its moody beat and background vocals screaming, “Hello! Is anybody there!!” When the melody kicked in, Albarn came in rocking a guitar.
The crew was composed of different musicians, including guests like Peven Everett and Jehnny Beth who joined for their collaboration tracks. A giant screen above them played videos for each respective song, creating an audiovisual experience that’s trademark of the band. The setlist was spectacular, as Gorillaz played hits from all of their four major albums. Fans of their early2000s material were treated to classics like “19-2000,” “Last Living Souls” and “El Mañana.” Later, it was time for one of my favorites from “Plastic Beach” — “Rhinestone Eyes.” With its electrifying beat and catchy hook, the song sounded better than ever live. Each song was performed with incredible intensity and passion, elevating the experience far above what you get from simply listening to the studio version.
The bulk of the songs played came from their most recent album, the excellent “Humanz.” Spacey tunes like “Andromeda” and “Saturnz Barz” provoked an eruption of applauses when they came to an end. The guest features also came through, putting on an excellent show for each of their tracks.
Staples’ returned to stage to perform “Ascension,” a song that made the whole venue jump. Seeing my favorite band joined by one of my favorite rappers on stage was surreal and I savored every moment of it.
The energy slowed down for a moment when Gorillaz performed “Busted and Blue,” a melancholic song that made the audience turn-on their phones’ flashlights. Light inundated the arena as Albarn’s vocals provoked chills down each concert attendee’s spines. The main setlist concluded with “We Got The Power,” a happy-go-lucky tune perfect to leave you in a good mood.
Of course, that wasn’t the end at all. A few minutes after saying goodbye, Gorillaz returned for an encore. Quirky as usual, Albarn announced he’ll be performing a brand-new song titled “Idaho.” It was a bizarre country-style track, but not necessarily my cup of tea. Halfway through the song, someone made a mistake, so he started again from the beginning. I wouldn’t have wanted this to be the conclusion to an excellent concert — and luckily it wasn’t. The lights went off again and the fierce “Stylo” began playing. Immediately after, the song that started it all, “Clint Eastwood,” had everybody in the audience singing along. Everything wrapped up with “Demon Days,” a “church-like” track that highlights the uniqueness of the band.
A fun fact about Gorillaz is that they are mainly a project lead by Albarn (main singer) and Jamie Hawlett (visual artist). They collaborate with several artists, giving them wide musical appeal. This concert was proof of that, combining different genres and bringing people of different backgrounds together. My only disappointment was the baffling omission of “Feel Good Inc.,” one of the best songs of all time and their biggest hit. Other than that, the Gorillaz “Humanz” concert was a fantastic event. It was another reminder of why I love this band, and why I urge everyone to listen — on any of their albums you’ll find something to like. If you ever have the chance to go to one of their concerts, do it. Their unique sound reaches a new level when listened to live.