Gorillaz Demonstrate Greatness in Philly

(Photo credit via Riley Sardinha) Gorillaz lead singer Damon Albarn embracing his fans during his Philadelphia concert while performing hit songs like “Tranz.” This image depicts the artist alongside cartoon representations which are in sync with the lyrics.

Riley Sardinha 


Gorillaz have been a favorite artist for a lot of younger music fans in the past couple decades, always staying relevant through their willingness to combine genres in their albums.

Started by musician Damon Albarn and illustrator Jamie Hewlett, Gorillaz put out their self-titled album in 2001.

Albarn, wanting to venture out from his other band, Blur, originally wanted to stay anonymous with the project by introducing the concept of a band led by cartoon characters, complete with their own personalities and an overarching storyline.

The band includes the four main characters: 2D, Murdoc, Noodle, and Russell to accompany their music videos and merchandise.

Albarn and Hewlett didn’t anticipate how hugely successful the project would be when “Clint Eastwood” blew up on every music video channel and radio station in the early 2000s.  

Today, Gorillaz has seven studio albums to their name (ten if we’re including remix and B-sides albums), with an eighth set to be released this upcoming February.

Over the years, they’ve collaborated with dozens of other musicians on their albums, meaning every song is a unique listening experience.

October 15th marked the second night in a row Gorillaz took the stage at The Metropolitan Opera House in Philadelphia. The building first opened in 1908, with much of its original architecture and interior design choices kept intact.

The starburst chandelier, tiered balconies, and plush, red velvet seats contrasted beautifully with the electric, modern musicians The Met has been hosting lately.

The audience consisted of friends and family of all ages; with quite a few fans who have likely been following Albarn since Blur started. Many had their young children tag along.

Some fans could be seen wearing bright pink clothes to match the recurring theme of the incoming “Cracker Island” album.

The opening act for the tour was Atlanta’s EARTHGANG, an alternative hip-hop duo that hyped up the crowd with a mix of their own tracks and a few covers. Most of EARTHGANG’s songs talked about positivity, which was reflected in their colorful stage outfits, rainbow spotlights, and Grateful Dead inspired merchandise. 

Even through the fog machine’s endless clouds of smoke, I could tell their disc jockey and keyboard player were having the time of their lives behind them.

Once their set was done, we waited for Gorillaz to come on. We could see the screens being lowered to show off the beloved animated videos that gave the band such a legendary reputation.

Gorillaz came on right before 9 p.m., starting off “M1A1” with Albarn dramatically throwing his pink jacket into the crowd for a lucky audience-goer to catch.

Nearly forty years into his career, Albarn still has a blast performing on stage. He went onto the rail and into the crowd a number of times, interacting with fans and signing a variety of merch.

Among the first songs played was “Tranz” off of their 2018 album, “The Now Now”. During this song, I picked up on one major detail that blew me away and continued to impress me throughout the night: on the screen showing the music videos, Albarn’s vocals were perfectly timed with 2D’s animated mouth movements.

Later on, Rebecca Freckleton and Petra Luke, two of the backup singers, provided vocals for Noodle’s singing on “DARE”. Del the Funky Homosapien came on during the encore for “Rock the House” and “Clint Eastwood”.

The three of them also were able to perfectly match the mouth movements on their respective characters.

Every song had its own unique visuals taken from the band’s original animations and concept art. The way Gorillaz utilized multimedia between the music videos and the musicians on stage elevated the experience of a concert into something that would be seen at a modern art museum.

Even the pre-recorded verses for Thundercat, Tame Impala, Slowthai, D.R.A.M., and Yukimi Nagano who couldn’t make the tour fit right in, not making things feel awkward when Albarn wasn’t singing. 

The first half of the show focused on Albarn and the onstage band line-up, which included a second drummer, a percussionist, a keyboard player, and a five-person gospel choir on top of the typical four piece band organization.

Have I mentioned this is a rock band?

Marking the start of the second half was a surprise performance of a yet-to-be-released song called “Skinny Ape”; a catchy, punk rock banger that acknowledged the cartoon background of the band.

More surprises kept coming after EARTHGANG returned for “Opium”, my personal favorite song off of 2020’s “Song Machine”. It turns out there are a number of guest performers on this tour to play some songs in-person.

Bootie Brown arrived on stage to provide the rap verses for “Dirty Harry” and “New Gold”, also harmonizing with Bobby Womack’s (R.I.P.) pre-recorded singing on the post-chorus of “Stylo”.

There was also an appearance by De La Soul for “Feel Good Inc.” Getting to do the evil laugh with the other audience-goers was definitely something to cross off my bucket list.  

At the very end, Sweetie Irie came in to provide a ‘remixed’, extended version of “Clint Eastwood”. No disrespect to Irie; he sounded good and had a lot of energy, but the closer of the concert would’ve been more powerful if “Clint Eastwood” was left as it sounded on the album.

Still, this show proved that concerts are an art form, not limited just to music.

To me, Gorillaz isn’t just any gimmicky modern band. At age fourteen, they were the first music artist I ever truly loved, being the catalyst for my aspiring career as a hopeful entertainment journalist and radio broadcaster.

The Met Philly and Gorillaz gave me a night I’ll never forget, and I look forward to seeing how the band will continue to blend genres and defy expectations in the future.

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