(PHILADELPHIA, PA) -- Night one of the Gorillaz 2-night show at The Met in Philly, on Friday, October 14th, was a Feel Good experience of Momentary Bliss, from the band that incorporates cool monster-human hybrid animation into their art. In anticipation of the virtual band’s eighth album, Cracker Island (set for release on February 24th featuring artist collaborations from Tame Impala, Bad Bunny, Stevie Nicks, and more), the Gorillaz embarked on a world tour to unveil new music in a live, immersive setting.
EARTHGANG—a hip hop duo from Atlanta with members Olu and WowGr8—opened with powerful stage presence and sound. The mystique behind the bunny ski mask and bright red suit of the pair captivated the audience, as they performed their set with amped up energy, hyping up the crowd. Signed to J. Cole’s Dreamville Records, they’re affiliated with many hip hop artists, such as 6LACK, and have drawn comparisons to Outkast. They were super fun and engaging!
Then came the boys from London (with special guests)! Covering a plethora of songs from each of their 8 albums, save for The Fall, the Gorillaz brought some feel-good dance to The Met, replete with high energy in an animated, funky atmosphere. They played in front of a giant theater screen, with their cinematic alter egos (2-D, Murdoc, Russel, and Noodle) simultaneously playing behind, incorporating bright visuals and MV cut scenes throughout, of the animated group’s chaotic adventures and hijinks. The thin veil of mystery surrounding the band has preexisted since the Gorillaz emerged in the late nineties/early 2000’s. Sort of like the music equivalent of Banksy, to a degree, the only difference is that their identity is widely known, and the band instead opts to infuse this separate world of animation into their art—interconnecting a VR world with real life. It’s quite brilliant, in fact.
Even more brilliant is their experimentation with extending this art into both a physical and technological world… and seeing where the lines blur. In 2017, the Gorillaz devised an immersive ‘Spirit House’ pop-up experience in a few select cities, which was a manifestation of the actual spooky house they used in the Saturn Barz music video. It was a free event, and according to a press release at the time, it gave fans “exclusive music and visuals through physical installations and projection mapping technology… which allowed fans to bathe in high-tech sound, feast on unearthly visuals, and let the experience take [them] on the ultimate trip… offering fans the opportunity to dive deeper into their world.”
The Gorillaz fully-immersive concept came a few years before The Weeknd’s new After Hours Nightmare walkthrough experience. And, in my one review, I wrote about the need for more like it in music/art. Billie Eilish, who performed live with Gorillaz’ lead singer Damon Albarn at Coachella earlier this year, also had her own pop-up experience in LA a couple years ago: The Billie Eilish Experience, in collaboration with Spotify to bring Billie’s debut album to life. Eilish has also gotten involved in the VR world with the Beat Saber video game as well as Oculus VR concert experiences so that the shows could be accessible to fans who weren’t within reach of the cities on tour.
However, the Gorillaz seem to be at the forefront of creating a band-based metaverse, or blending of realities, to work as an extraction of the animated world by drawing us in. I remember when Who Framed Roger Rabbit succeeded in being one of the first films to combine live-action and animation. In more modern films, there’s READY PLAYER ONE, which too is sci-fi fantasy where the two worlds meet. We’ve seen this kind of creativity in boundary-pushing Netflix series like Black Mirror (episodes Playtest and Striking Vipers) as well as Love, Death + Robots (which fooled viewers into thinking it used rotoscoping—a process of creating animated scenes from live action—but instead used photorealistic CG animation). In a similar avant-garde fashion, the Gorillaz continue making an indelible mark on the music landscape, merging virtual and physical art.
This all begs the question: When will we see the next art pop-up? New York City is a hub for immersive art spaces, housing innovative art and tech, and blending mixed realities—places like the SuperReal, ARTECHOUSE, Arcadia Earth, and VR World NYC. So, might there be a Cracker Island experience on the horizon? Only time will tell. But it would be amazing. When Disney opened Pandora—The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park a few years ago, it gave people access to an otherworldly landscape to visit and explore. An article from VentureBeat discussed the theory that “Avatars will be our guides in immersive AR worlds — and brands need to be ready…” And, like hordes of others, I want to enter into the world of the Gorillaz. The live shows are just the tip of the iceberg.
In that regard, the Gorillaz have been consistently merging culture and art. Last year, the band presented “Song Machine Live From Kong” in cinemas worldwide for one night only to celebrate their 20th anniversary. A Netflix feature film is also rumored to be in development, after the band considered many incarnations of episodes/material. It’ll be exciting to see what they do next. While soon entering into their 25th year as a band, the Gorillaz could quite possibly be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As an aside, I wonder if it will be the first acceptance speech given by a virtual band, like they had sometimes done with previous awards.
The special guests were amazing! About midway through their set, EARTHGANG joined the Gorillaz on Opium, followed by Fatoumata Diawara on Désolé. Bootie Brown hopped on the songs Dirty Harry, New Gold, and Stylo. De La Soul came in on the crème de la crème of the concert, Feel Good Inc. As a precursor to the song, they had the audience collectively take an oath to never let anyone tell us how to think or feel (to practice in autonomy and self-love), before busting out the hit tune. Finally, Del the Funky Homosapien concluded the night with Rock the House and the ever-favorite Clint Eastwood (featuring Sweetie Irie and Ed Case), which switched gears and entered into the sped-up remix version.
The visuals to the song Plastic Beach were surreal, displaying giant pink umbrella trees from the music video, reminiscent of the Socotra dragon trees of Yemen. One of the songs from the new album as mentioned, New Gold, features Tame Impala and Bootie Brown; however, the visual live production of the song was nothing short of mesmerizing—first focusing on a spinning, glinting, gold object, which revealed itself to be a Xanax pill, and bathing the crowd in a superglow of golden lights, while the visualizer of metallic characters were dripping in a gold euphoria—with lyrics like “But in the magic gold, there’s a pretty one.” It was at this moment that I was reminded of the sound baths that Sigur Rós once did, which were sensory experiential art that immersed attendees. The only songs missing from the concert that I personally would have loved to experience were Ascension and Saturn Barz, from the album Humanz, but it still didn’t take away from an outstanding show.
The Gorillaz new album, Cracker Island, is set for release on February 24, 2023.
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