written by Kelsey May
July 9, 2017
All who attended the first U.S. Gorillaz concert (2017) at Huntington Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois were blessed to experience such profoundly moving, inspiring, and genuine art. Gorillaz (aka Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett plus their brilliant cohort of collaborators) is one of the best examples of activism done well. While the crowd was diverse in taste, personality, life experiences, age, and appearance, we shared a love for good music and – hopefully – a commitment to “be loving each other no matter what happens.”
Setlist (with commentary and highlights)
The stage design featured a large LED-lit circle, which displayed various video clips and images throughout the show, and a video screen backdrop, typical of many Gorillaz performances. The circular screen briefly displayed an Illuminati-reminiscent eye, and when the screen moved to hover over the performers, it seemed to symbolize the reminder that this night – as with every day activists are alive and upsetting the status quo – was under watch by the powers that be.
one) Gorillaz opened with “Ascension,” to the delight of many.
two) “Last Living Souls,” a song I understand as commentary on the deadened nature of those who limit their perception by refusing to use psychedelic drugs, as well as those who don’t care about others (the two characteristics, funnily enough, are often found in the same people).
three) “Saturnz Barz”, during which Albarn played the melodica.
four) “Charger”: The video backdrop featured electricity bolts and created a beautifully intense mood for the live performance. XXXX made me (and others, I assure you) swoon.
five) “Rhinestone Eyes,” which is one of my all-time favorite tracks, particularly because of its important subject matter and commentary on climate change and consumerism.
six) “Sex Murder Party,” the ironic murder ballad that – sadly – was especially relevant to the city of Chicago, both past and present. Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz were both present to lend their talents. Following the song, Katz encouraged us to “start a revolution… of love.” Now to follow through…
seven) “She’s My Collar,” which had one of the most creative (and damn good) video accompaniments: a pelican (with toucan or eagle coloring) flying over a photo collage of women’s bodies. Fine art. I was disappointed that Kali Uchis was not on the performer docket, as this is one of my favorite tracks from Humanz.
eight) “Busted and Blue,” which was dedicated “to all those in the grandstand… [and] all those in VIP”. The video accompaniment for this song was also fine art; it featured the Humanz album artwork of Noodle. Images of Noodle’s past phases bloomed in each lens of her glasses, spilling the ink of her history across the stage and our hearts. Its shifts in lighting supported each crescendo in the song perfectly.
nine) “El Mañana,” during which the circular screen above the stage featured additional imagery of clouds and a helicopter, thus expanding the ambience of the traditional music video.
ten) “Carnival,” featuring Anthony Hamilton, whose vocals were confident and somehow even better live than on the album.
eleven) An extended version of “Broken”
twelve) “Interlude: Elevator Going Up”
thirteen) “Andromeda,” with a stunning video accompaniment displaying a green-toned star-strewn sky in motion. Also, Albarn’s falsetto was on point during this performance. I particularly loved that Albarn paused the show to re-perform the song’s ending, insisting that it be performed right.
fourteen) “Strobelite” with Albarn on keytar and beautiful stage lighting.
fifteen) An altered version of “Out Of Body” with outstanding guest performances by Little Simz and Zebra Katz. “All that’s left for us to do is move,” Simz instructed, and the trippy video accompaniment winked with the details.
sixteen) New track “Garage Palace,” an anthem featuring Little Simz. It assured listeners, “This is our time.” The video accompaniment was a compilation of neon sign art overlapped and arranged in alternating patterns, one of my favorite aesthetics of the evening.
seventeen) “We Got the Power” was the final song for the initial setlist, and Albarn ensured that the audience understood why we ought to be there: to remember our “heart[s] full of hope” and that our love is “indestructible even when we’re tired.” (And fuck, this fight for justice, this march for peace, this country, these people, we’re tired.) This song was the epitome of beauty, featuring Noodle’s album art again but with rose-colored glasses, a direct statement on how we need to continue seeing and hoping for the world.
which happened after a record short interlude, perhaps one and a half minutes, just enough time for the band to walk backstage and guzzle some water.
eighteen) The classic hit “Stylo”
nineteen) An all-out performance of “Kids With Guns,” another satirical piece that splays out social problems and forces you to imagine solutions. (Because how can our kids have guns?)
twenty) “Clint Eastwood,” which was, as Albarn put it, an enormously special treat. Del the Funky Homosapien grinned his way onto stage, and we sang our guts out together. “I’m useless, but not for long,” Albarn admitted, by which I mean he assured us that ethical perception-expanding is how you become useful.
twenty-one & twenty-two) The evening’s final songs (and, in my tear ducts’ opinion, finest moments) were “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven” and “Demon Days.” Simply speaking, this performance was a spiritual experience. “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven” is a song which begs listeners to shrug off the temptations to abuse opioids and other life-destroying addictions: “Don’t get lost in heaven / They got locks on the gate / Don’t go over the edge / You’ll make a big mistake.” The choice to play this song at the evening’s close highlighted the importance of the city’s own struggle with hard drugs: in 2015 alone, 32,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses. In the past two months, dozens of Chicago residents have died from a new addictive prescription drug that is marketed as safe.
“Tomorrow is a brand new day,” the gospel choir sang, looping “Demon Days” over and over while behind them, an image of stained glass rose onto the video screen. “So turn yourself around, turn yourself, turn yourself around.” Their voices reverberated around the pavilion, and I shut my eyes, lifted my face, and wept.
What do you want to change about your life? Albarn wants us to reconsider who we are and what we live for. What can you commit to doing this next week? I asked several people post-show.
Vincent Perez said, “I left hoping that the feeling wouldn’t fade. The only change I would make would be to have a positive attitude towards my week.”
Robert Fraser said, “The same things I always want to change about myself. I want to be more disciplined and productive with my time. I want to give myself reasons to make art beyond aesthetic.”
As for me, I’m continuing to advocate for self-reflection, mental wellness, spiritual health, peace, justice, and socialism. I’m writing poetry, curating this blog, and learning music. I certainly need to pick up the pace on my projects and use my time intentionally. I also need to give myself space to breathe, and I need to take pride in all I’ve accomplished and all those I’ve touched thus far. And I want to find:
“Some kind of nature
Some kind of soul
Some kind of mixture
Some kind of goal
Some kind of majesty
Some chemical load…
Some kind of gold”
Featured image credit: Robert Fraser