Review: Gorillaz at the Forum: A dance party for a world gone mad
Damon Albarn was plenty worried about the future of the planet when he made “Humanz,” the fifth album by his band Gorillaz, which he’s described as a “dark fantasy” imagining the impossible election of Donald Trump.
But that was last year, before Trump actually won. And before hurricanes demolished Houston and Puerto Rico. And before a madman pointed a gun through a hotel window in Las Vegas and massacred 58 music lovers trying to enjoy a concert.
“Every week the world just gets slightly crazier,” Albarn said Thursday night at the Forum, and he sounded genuinely crushed, if also somehow unsurprised, by the developments of the last few months.
Apart from that observation, though, the singer seemed determined to persist — to live it up, in fact — as he led Gorillaz through a sweaty, exuberant two-hour performance full of guest appearances and singalong tunes.
The message was dire but the vibe was celebratory: a dance party despite (or perhaps because of) the dire state of the world.
That blend of emotions has always defined the music of Gorillaz, which began in the late 1990s when Albarn, best known for leading the Britpop band Blur, teamed with visual artist Jamie Hewlett to create a so-called virtual group fronted by animated characters.
The goofy concept (and the catchy tunes) helped make radio hits of songs with deeply gloomy sentiments, like “Clint Eastwood” and the archly titled “Feel Good Inc.”; the focus on Hewlett’s cartoons gave Albarn a break from the personal scrutiny demanded by pop stardom.
Yet these days the singer seems less concerned with all that. At the Forum, where Gorillaz stopped as part of a lengthy world tour, slickly produced videos played on a giant screen at the back of the stage; sometimes those characters even mouthed Albarn’s lyrics.
But the real show was watching the frontman and his crew of musicians (including six backup vocalists) bear down on the music, which hit harder and moved faster than on the band’s records.
“We Got the Power,” about the will to “be loving each other no matter what happens,” was punky and propulsive, while “Kids With Guns” had Albarn attacking an electric guitar as though he were meting out a punishment.
For “Ascension,” the Long Beach rapper Vince Staples popped out to deliver his vivid lines about how sinister forces are “trying to dinosaur us.” Peven Everett, a soul singer from Chicago, channeled the great Charlie Wilson as he joined the group for an ecstatic rendition of the rubbery “Strobelite.”
And then there was D.R.A.M., the ebullient Virginia rapper, who brought a merry sensuality to “Andromeda.”
Additional cameos from De La Soul (in “Superfast Jellyfish” and “Feel Good Inc.”), Pusha T (“Let Me Out”) and Del the Funky Homosapien (“Clint Eastwood”) kept your eyes on the stage rather than the screen; Jehnny Beth, of the fierce London rock band Savages, was especially commanding in “We Got the Power” as she pumped her fists in the air, her dark hair slicked back like a young Freddie Mercury.
Not everything jumped so intensely. Near the end of the show the band played a new song, a kind of country shuffle, that Albarn said he’d just written during a brief vacation in Idaho.
And the concert finished with the reggae-inflected title track from Gorillaz’s 2005 album “Demon Days,” which had the enveloping feel of church music thanks to the mini-choir of backing singers.
But even here — in a decade-old song conceived at a time when “you can’t even trust the air you breathe” — Albarn projected a willingness to meet the moment.
Yes, things are bad, he seemed to be saying. But they can only get worse.
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