Concert review: Gorillaz

A 20-year playlist provides material for the band's real and virtual appearances.

For their final show on the Australian leg of their world tour, the virtual band Gorillaz brought their animated universe and distinctive mix of electronic, hip hop and alt-rock music to Adelaide’s Illuminate festival. Lead by Blur frontman and Gorillaz co-creator Damon Albarn, an ensemble of musicians and collaborators performed material from the band’s 20-plus-year career, while behind them on screen played animated footage of beloved virtual band members 2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle, and Russel Hobbs. 

Gorillaz’s enduring popularity and creative innovation was in undeniable evidence. Long-time fans and youthful devotees (many of whom looked to be younger than the band itself) eagerly sang along to every hit in the extensive discography – from ‘Clint Eastwood’, the lead single on their debut self-titled album, to their latest release, ‘Cracker Island’. Along the way, there were plenty of old favourites such as ‘Feel Good Inc.’, several songs with a pertinent environmentalist theme from Plastic Beach, and offerings from their recent collaborative project Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez.

Working with other musicians has always been central to the Gorillaz ethos. Some featured artists, such as Elton John, were present as pre-recorded voices and appeared onscreen next to 2-D, Noodle, and the gang. Others joined the band live onstage: South African “future ghetto punk” singer Moonchild Sanelly easily the most memorable among them.

Attendees had the privilege of seeing Sanelly and her spotlight-stealing backup dancers perform their own electrifying set as support act, before she returned to the stage with Albarn for their collaborative track, ‘With Love To An Ex’.

Always a gracious and upbeat frontman, Albarn endeared himself to the audience by sharing tales of his encounters with Australian wildlife, and at one point led the entire arena in a group breathing exercise. Some fans, to their delight, had the chance to get close and personal when Albarn knelt down to clasp hands with the front row before leaving the stage to dance his way into the standing crowd.

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It was a high-energy, joyful show from beginning to end, satisfying fans and winning over the uninitiated without difficulty. With its focus on virtual and electronic ingenuity, it made for a felicitous pairing with a festival that aims to celebrate ‘innovation, art, light, music and technology’. There is something particularly satisfying about seeing an electronic band perform live, when the people behind the machines are revealed.

Gorillaz proved that their music is equally entrancing whether it emanates from fantasy characters swirling through space, or from a man on stage playing a melodica into a microphone. Either way, it’s bound to make you feel good.

Gorillaz played for one night only on 28 July 2022 at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre as part of Adelaide’s Illuminate Festival.

Megan Koch is a writer and bookseller based in Adelaide. She studied English and Applied Linguistics at Flinders University.