Gorillaz photo : Renaude Fabrique





Festival d’ete de Quebec

July 2017

Live Review

Gorillaz photo : Renaude Fabrique


1. ‘That was a bit very special…’ dayglo technicolor 21st century technological wizardry backdropping a dystopian party… like watching a future cartoon turning into flesh….on steroids…


This is an astonishing gig.

Way out there.

Bang on the new millennium moment and far away from the claustrophobia of trad rock formats like the rigidity of the four piece band Gorillaz are operating beyond the law.

Live Gorillaz is a high dayglo rush of of image and ideas, shards and skree of pop culture bricolage. In the middle of the multi media avalanche though there is a perfect English melody and melancholy jarring perfectly with the thrust and confidence and pop culture cut up of hip hop and a dayglo technicolor 21st century technological wizardry backdropping a dystopian party…Where the visuals are part of the set list, where cartoon characters feel real and a band explodes out of the visual trickery…

In 2017 this means hip hop is key with its daredevil embracing of whatever it needs to create the noise that it wants and this ideas thrust and edge is created by onstage guests like Pusha T and Vince Staples who rush the stage and guest on the later part of the set adding a whole different dynamic to the already thrilling show

This is a band at the top of their game…and yet you could still dance to it! And tonight thousands did. There’s a 100 000 people here in the sultry Quebec evening at the wonderful festival d’ete that is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an astonishing ten day festival that costs about fifty quid to go to and is played out in an arena in the French Canadian capital’s city centre park with the best PA I have ever heard at a zillion festivals I have been to.
Gorillaz sound massive. Their dance grooves have been cranked on steroids. There is a devilish almost industrial glint to their demon eyes that retain the phat grooves but with an added power and darkness. There are also moments of plaintive beauty when Albarn strips it down to his voice and piano. Not one second is boring. Not one second is left void.
On this tour the shape shifting band have morphed again with Albarn doing the frontman role to perfection, bouncing around, singing and diving into the audience. The singer emerging from the 2D cartoon shadows like a frenetic flesh and bone performer that somehow in Gorillaz world seems to make him oddly even more cartoon like and its this dislocation between fantasy and reality that makes Gorillaz so perfect…a cartoon that comes to life and life that becomes cartoon…

2. Gorillaz are nothing as boring as a band.
This is a brilliant shape shifting pop. An aural collage of ideas that sees a 3D fleshy band emerge even further from behind their brilliant Jamie Hewlett cartoon calling card. There has been over the years a gradual morph into an almost ‘proper’ band from the guest heavy last tour to 2017’s simpler and more pointed affair with some pretty heavy almost punkish rushes mixed into the pop soup of funk, dub and soul and hip hop and electronica.

It’s another step back to the flesh and filth of the human animal from last times soul review with guest singers and a rolling cast of performers. This time it’s a more stripped down, let’s say geurilla take on Gorillaz. There are no former Clash members this time amping up the old Skool charisma and swagger, just Seye – the  loose limbed kool bassist and Jeff Wootton, the guitar player with a Strummer Mohawk and a razor tight muscle drummer and backing singers – you would say it was stripped down but the cartoon presences of the original digital members still loom large and feel real in that genius illusionary brilliance that is core to the band.
3.  Where humanz become cartoon characters…

And yet the more human(z) they become the more cartoon like they seem and yet the more cartoon like they are the more human they feel – it’s the digital enigma wrapped in a dayglo glow wrapped in the pop genius mind of Damon Albarn who is surfing the cutting edge of pop culture technology, immersing himself in the hi tech rush of modern times like the Beatles did in the sixties and when Ziggy went wiggy with Bowie in the seventies.

Simian cyborgs are replaced by flesh and bone, dark cartoon capers come to life and yet still shape shifting from fantasy to reality and back again. The cartoon members 2-D, Murdoc, Russel and Noodle were a perfect vehicle for Albarn to hide behind- a new project in the cartoon shadows with no expectation and baggage and perfect for trippy videos that captured a then pop zeitgeist and broke away from the bloke in band boredom of post Britpop.

4. History 
The ever changing initial concept initially saw Albarn and Jamie Hewlett create a project that was a cartoon and free from the baggage of a real band politic. After all you can redesign a carton if it’s getting on your nerves!. The brilliant graphics from Hewlett created an apocalyptic group married with Damon Albarn’s pop perfection now set free of the constraints of indie and embracing the freedom of shape shifting pop was a brilliant one. With the cut and paste of hip hop as well as funk and soul and any music you felt like on the plate, the Gorillaz were perfect 21st century pop and finally grabbed the huge US success that eluded Blur with all their English art school pop idiosyncrasies never could.

5.  The pop merangue on steroids where the flesh is overtaking the cartoon
Ten years later there have been five albums, including the latest Humanz, of increasingly sophisticated pop merangue and there have been tours where the human and the cartoon have been meshed together in an audio visual feast. Tonight the flesh is winning over the cartoon and the first half of the show is even stripped of the other human guests with Albarn fronting the band as they rattle their way through their catalogue with a surprisingly effective heavier take in their sound.

6. The gig Itself…
The manic Albarn is in full frontman mode, careening around the stage with his band throwing stick man shapes that make them look, ironically, more cartoon like than the famous cartoon band still spliced into the stunning visuals that dominate the huge screen. These visuals are utterly captivating whilst underlining the subtle political yes you can message that chimes well with the millennials and their post Trump/Brexit reawakening.

The sweatshod and disheveled Albarn is an engaging and energising presence. An older yet as intense presence as the skinny pop kid who fronted Blur in the Brit pop wars. Always an audacious talent he is now free to follow his muse away from the confines of being in a band.

His half shaved face and manic eyes are brimful of adrenaline plus whilst his voice is still perfect English vowel pop. He bounds around like a music hall crooner on springs diving into the audience with a cheeky leer, bounding across the stage like a monkey king, conducting his hi tech review and placing himself in the middle of this theatre of mates.


7. 2017 Gorillaz are a stadium machine
The glory of Gorillaz is that it can go any way they/he wants – the currency is ideas and it breaks free from the trad rock plod of band culture. Like a dayglo review the procession of human members who move like cartoons blurring with cartoon members who look like humans is a perfect reflection of our half man half machine modern world.

This is stunningly effective and the 2017 Gorillaz are a stadium machine, combining the power of riff with the intimate and plaintive moments that are perfectly captured in Albarn’s classic English pop voice that sits somewhere between the elfin genius of a Syd Barrett and the artful dodger of wam bam thank you glam David Bowie. Both those quintessentially late English pop heroes would have loved this show – saint Syd with his one album stand in Pink Floyd with his one year of gigs that combined an LSD fired imagination and the then latest in hi tech with that light show – a perfect antecedent to this modern monkey business whilst Bowie would have been intrigued by the morning images and slip sliding personas on display as well as the melodic genius of Albarn.
Maybe the only 21st century band in existence, Gorillaz shape shifting between dayglo cartoon and live band is a fascinating playing with image and ideas… a 2017 take on the kind of reality fracture that fascinated David Bowie in his cracked actor Ziggy pomp.

8. Death to trad rock! (Again…)
Whilst most bands deal in the lumpen earthen grind of being trad rock and operate in a tried and tested set of rules, Gorillaz is a wide open idea rush. Pop culture was always about embracing technology and also eating up the vast feast of possibility. Tirelessly creative, Gorillaz have kept moving – understanding that bricolage culture is where pop really rules.
Live this sees an extraordinary rush of audio visual ideas, the giant screen project the cartoon Gorillaz, short films and visual blasts of high pixel brain fry, the band sound stunning – somehow turning the studio genius into stadium monsters. Live Gorillaz sound massive in a way that only the Prodigy before them have turned electronica and in a sense another cartoon band into genuine big league contenders.

9. Cut and paste! All the best pop is bricolage!
Of course hip hop, like early punk, already knew that bricolage is the perfect pop artform and hip hop’s cut and paste, take what you need, from pop culture whilst always an affront to rock purists was creating art from debris – an art form in itself and creating another dream from the pop culture shards and snippets.

10. Exhilarated by the audio visual bombardment…
By the end of the set you are exhilarated by the audio visual bombardment. This is a 3D pop experience of full media tsunami that has a plethora of emotional nerve endings from melancholic to swaggering, from intense noise to sinuous grooves from dramatic pop shocks to melodic moments of insular beauty.

Turning pop on it’s head and blur(ing) all notions of what is real and what has meaning, Gorillaz are an artful romp through the playpen of pop culture. They create meaning from the meaningless and pop from the ever multiplying nerve ends of culture and the increasingly fractured modern pop culture climate where music has no central point and is a cascading palette of unrelated ideas that are there to be rethreaded in any way that you want. The fact that they take this artful trip and then play gigs and events as wonderful and enthralling as this is a celebration that the artful and daring side of pop still exists.

Gorillaz in 2017 are the perfect band of our times capturing the simian zeitgeist, reflecting the multi media overload back and creating some of the most human and heartfelt music int he middle of their sensual sensory overload.

At the end of the concert you stand their stunned by the whole trip. In the sixties it took LSD to get this far out – now you just need LED.


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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


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