Damon Albarn’s virtual band Gorillaz came alive Sunday night to close out Coachella — and it’s in real life that the Blur frontman’s vision really thrives.
For Gorillaz’s first show since 2005, the Britpop icon played humble curator, inviting an eclectic list of guests onstage, including soul star Bobby Womack, De La Soul, Swedish-Japanese singer Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon, and the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music.
Over 90 minutes and 18 songs, the 15-piece-plus ensemble breathed a vivacity into Gorillaz’s three-album discography, and premiered almost every track off their brand new release, Plastic Beach.
Oh, and then there was that semi-Clash reunion — Gorillaz’s newest members, guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon (who both appear on Beach), played live together for the first time in more than 25 years.
In all respects, the set was a colossal production, executed by Albarn’s Gorillaz co-conspirator, Tank Girl animator Jamie Hewlett, whose visual touch was a dominant factor, with a glowing “Gorillaz” sign and giant onstage screens playing out the storyline of Plastic Beach (inspired by the polluted beaches near Albarn’s English country home).
But despite the pop spectacle, this fest-closing set was mostly about Albarn, the puppeteer orchestrating his vision and watching it come to life.
The gig’s highlights include “El Manana,” a gorgeous meditation on love and money with keyboard plinks, acoustic guitar, and a snappy drum beat; newbie “Empire Ants,” featuring vocals from Nagano, which floated on a beautiful jazzy vibe; and “Broken,” a sailor’s shanty with the Clash boys sharing a mic to trade spirited chants, looking like French navy men in their striped shirts and sailor’s hats (the entire group’s clothing theme was nautical).
Beaches dance-y hits had the 30,000-plus crowd getting their groove on. Bobby Womack’s velvety croon carried “Stylo”; De La Soul hyped the crowd on “Superfast Jelly Fish”; and set-opener “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach” rocked with a recorded vocal spot from Snoop Dogg.
Older hits like “Demon Days” and “Feel Good Inc.” were yet another reminder of Gorillaz’s musical range, blending elements of electro, funk, dub, rock, and hip-hop.
But the apex arrived during the encore with “To Binge,” a show-tune-style duet with Nagano, and show-closer “Cloud of Unknowing,” a melancholy ballad with Womack on lead.
The entire set proved that team work is a beautiful thing — and that Gorillaz have perfected the formula.