Gorillaz: Live at the YouTube Theater, Inglewood
The traveling circus passed through town this weekend and left behind a Gorillaz-sized hole that only Damon Albarn and Co. can fill on their next visit. When the Britpop veteran last came to Los Angeles for a show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, he made a snide remark about a fellow musician that landed him in hot water and unfortunately obscured a remarkable performance. This time around, however, the ringmaster returned with his entire crew and then some, as expected from the collaborative powerhouse that is Gorillaz.
On Friday, the group performed at the Kia Forum and brought out Beck, Thundercat, Tame Impala and Schoolboy Q, among others — big names for a big venue in the showbiz capital of the world. Two nights later, Albarn and his touring band played at the nearby YouTube Theater, also in Inglewood, to a fraction of the crowd from two nights before. The set didn’t feature the same all-star roster as the first show, but Beck returned to the stage for two songs, one already released and the other yet to drop, as did openers EARTHGANG, the Phracyde's Bootie Brown, De La Soul, Del the Funky Homosapien and Fatoumata Diawara.
The most exciting part about a Gorillaz concert is that you never know who’s going to grace the stage and when. Albarn doesn’t talk much between songs, so guest acts pretty much come and go without any grand introduction. Think Coachella — you know someone massive is going to make a cameo, but you can’t know for sure who or when it’s going to be. It's the same with Gorillaz, except it all happens in one place within a two-hour time frame.
The Sunday-night show was thoughtfully paced with a considerate setlist. On his solo tour earlier this year, Albarn played a lot of material from his curative new record, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows. It was a deeply personal body of work and most fans understood that he made it for himself more than anyone else, which is why his sets were far more solemn than the average Blur or Gorillaz concert. It was a safe space for Albarn to express his most vulnerable side, and upon letting it all out, he got the gang back together and started working on a new Gorillaz record. This current world tour will climax with the release of the virtual band's first full-length studio release since 2018’s The Now Now.
Albarn and his band continue to open shows with “M1 A1” as they have for years, because there’s no better way to turn a crowd all the way up to 100 in under two minutes. The majority of the tracks they performed were from the first three Gorillaz albums, i.e., the landmark legacy-establishers. Between those, the ringmaster threw in a few post-Plastic Beach tunes here and there, and the set as a whole ended up being a well-rounded one — the perfect balance between classic and fresh with glimmers of what’s yet to come in the Gorillaz Cinematic Universe.
Everything from “Tomorrow Comes Today” to the recently released “New Gold” blared through the auditorium speakers, leaving the audience with very little to ask for. To this day, Albarn’s greatest song continues to be his weakest performance — it’s almost like he forgot how to sing “Feel Good Inc.” the day they finalized the studio recording, though it doesn’t really demand world-class execution anyway. That we get to watch one of the most influential songs of the twenty-first century sung by the culprit himself is a massive deal, and to have De La Soul then turn it into a holistic ritual makes it an incomparable experience.
Albarn is aging and it's apparent that he reserves the tenderness in his voice for the studio. That being said, he still manages to deliver his vocals tastefully and with elegance. It doesn’t matter if it’s Blur or Gorillaz or the countless other projects he has been involved in over his career, because his concerts are always worth going to for one simple reason: he’s a proud musician who centers his work on elevating other artists as much as himself. That alone ensures that his creative output, live act and vision for the future will never go stale. Regardless of what shape he’s taken, you should witness Damon Albarn in the flesh at least once.