Gorillaz debut new song and mesmerize San Francisco crowd

At one point during the triumphant San Francisco leg of the Gorillaz world tour on Wednesday night, Britpop icon and versatile maestro Damon Albarn pulled out a six-foot gold horn.

“This thing is special,” he said. “Everyone close your eyes. I only blow it on special nights when I know the audience is ready to receive it.”

After an almighty parp that sounded like the rafters of Chase Center, the virtual and real band kicked into one of its most irresistible grooves, “Stylo”, and 15,000 people danced.

Damon Albarn is many things. ’90s teen pin-up, indie hero, opera composer, supergroup leader, celebrity creator and the founder of a world-dominant virtual band. But for me he will always be my introduction to alternative music when at the age of 12 I bought my first cassette tape with my own money on a rainy English shopping street. That album, “Parklife”, would create an entire genre and kick off Blur’s tenure as one of the biggest, most beloved bands in England with a string of six No. 1 albums on the UK charts.

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Outside of the favorite hockey game ‘Song 2’, Blur has never made its way into the US mainstream like its more commercial UK peer Coldplay. But Albarn’s 2001 creation of the experimental virtual band Gorillaz with cartoonist Jamie Hewlett broke any mold.

The ever-evolving group of staff and guests around Albarn has ranged over the years from Grace Jones to Elton John to Doja Cat to former members of The Clash to Tame Impala to De La Soul.

On Wednesday night, the giant screen behind the stage revealed the virtual universe Hewlett created, where cartoon members 2-D, Murdoc, Noodle and Hobbs did their digital thing. For that backdrop, the actual band with backing vocal quintet The Humanz Choir dug in as if their lives depended on it.

Albarn, in a white denim jacket, black T-shirt and gold chain, sauntered around with a dizzying grin, and it took only three songs before he lost the jacket and threw himself into the crowd, creating logistical problems for his safety and sound Gentlemen.

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The frontman somehow hasn’t lost the punk energy that has seen him scaling up PA speakers and light installations since 1991 and launching his body across the stage like a rag doll.

Outside of the golden horn, his high-pitched jokes in Chase Center included sprinting into the crowd that lost the spotlight and camera, grabbing a merry fan’s phone and yelling into the live stream, and donning a shiny dayglow hat offered by a fan. (something that is a tradition on the tour).

“I’ve always wanted to be Elton John,” Albarn said as he sat at the piano to play a stripped-down version of “O Green World” with the hat and glittering glasses on.

Damon Albarn of Gorillaz performs Wednesday at the Chase Center in San Francisco.

Steve Jennings/Getty Images

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The first half of the set ignored the hip-hop element that was such a big part of the band’s breakthrough success. The members, all dressed in bright pink, befitting Hewlett’s artistry for the upcoming album “Cracker Island” (featuring Stevie Nicks and Bad Bunny, among others), switched from punk (“White Light”) to electronica (“Rhinestone Eyes”) on a of the most beautiful songs Albarn has ever written, ‘On Melancholy Hill’.

The funk created by the rhythm section of early single “19-2000” was so sexy that Albarn was thrown into a vortex to compete with Flea’s viral pelvic twirl that took place a few blocks away, while the Red Hot Chili Peppers played a completely different game. crowd of tech entertained employees for Dreamforce in Oracle Park.

The band then played the world premiere of a new song that was influenced, for better or for worse, by the Bay Area.

“This is a new song. It’s partly inspired by one of those wonderful things that come out of Silicon Valley,” Albarn explained with a snarl. “The Amazon robot that walks across the road and delivers things. It’s something we don’t have on my little island far away. Yet. I saw one and it inspired me.”

It’s rare for a new song to get the kind of love that “Skinny Ape” debut got in Chase Center. From a delicate dueling intro between guitarist Jeff Wootton and bassist Seye Adelekan to a rousing chorus, “Don’t feel sad for me…”

Towards the end, the audience somehow sang along in unison, “I’m a skinny little ape ape ape ape,” much to Albarn’s delight, as he might have realized there he’d written another hit.

Despite Albarn’s occasional public feuds with other musicians, from the epic and largely contrived rivalry with Oasis in the ’90s to the recent target of Swiftie ire, the man’s disarming smile and aging charm arouse a tremendous amount of goodwill. on everyone in his presence. The crowd ranged from neon-clad teens to geriatric millennial Blur fans like myself to some Dreamforce strays, and they were all in the palm of his hands as he climbed atop the barriers and raised his arms in the air in both glory and thanks. .

The setlist salvaged the hip-hop and hits for the second half, as it plunged into a merry procession of guest vocalists, with Albarn leading the entire party under the perfectly synchronized animated band.

De La Soul’s Pos led the crowd in a spoken-word, cult-like chant of, “I won’t let anyone tell me what to think, I won’t let anyone tell me what to say, I won’t let anyone tell me what to do. ..unless it’s Damon Albarn. I feel strong, I feel confident and I … feel good,” sending the audience and band into a frenzy when Gorillaz released their biggest hit, “Feel Good Inc.” played.

Michelle Ndegwa took the explosive lead vocals on “Kids With Guns”, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker appeared virtually on “New Gold” and Bootie Brown joined “Stylo” with the late Bobby Womack on-screen behind it, for a special finale featuring one of Oakland’s own.

Damon Albarn and Gorillaz perform on stage at Oyafestivalen on August 10 in Oslo, Norway.

Damon Albarn and Gorillaz perform on stage at Oyafestivalen on August 10 in Oslo, Norway.

Per Ole Hagen/Redferns

“Bay Area musicians here have played an important role for us. One I won’t name,” Albarn had previously teased, before the reveal at the finale, “the creator, the one and only, Del the Funky Homosapien.”

The Oakland rapper then took the stage for “Rock the House” and “Clint Eastwood,” the band’s debut single he rapped on in 2001, in a riveting conclusion to the set.

I walked out of the venue under the giant Warriors screen in Thrive City Square with thousands of grinning concertgoers, just as happy and mesmerized by the music as when I first discovered Albarn’s genius decades ago.

The Gorillaz world tour continues over the weekend to two dates in Los Angeles. Find details on the Gorillaz website.

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