The o2 Arena – 4th December
The musical lexicon is a wondrous and ever-evolving behemoth. In 2016 I never ever said ‘pivot’ unless I was talking about basketball and I never ever talk about basketball. Now I casually pivot to video and, you know what, sometimes I pivot back. Before this dread year I’d never have thunk about dropping ‘interpolation’ into pop conversation but now, thanks to Swifty and Brexit chumps Right Said Fred, it’s been hailed in some quarters as the proverbial word of the year. It ain’t though because the word of the year is quite obviously ‘stan’.
And if these words were already long sunk into your vocabulary then congratulations friend, you win, but also you wouldn’t be able to crowbar this torturous angle into a Gorillaz review in mid-December 2017. My name’s Dave, and if I wasn’t too old to to say ‘stan’ I’d be saying ‘My name’s Dave and I’m a Damon Albarn stan’. From my actual life force Blur to pretty much everything he’s recorded since, this one human has written most of the songs that have dragged me through my countless years on planet Earth. Sure there’s an album with a Red Hot Chilli Pepper which obviously I’ve never listened to and yeah there’s ‘Crazy Beat’ but mostly there’s Damon, flashing that gold-tooth smile and revelling in a musical soul and brain that few contemporaries could ever consider stepping to.
You could happily and correctly argue it’s in his primate persona, deep in the midst of Gorillaz’ mayhem, where he flexes that cranial dexterity with the most urgency and you could happily and correctly opine that seeing Gorillaz live – where energy stifled by compressed byte or vinyl groove is freed to wreak glorious havoc – is one of pops most life-affirming experiences.
Sure, the miserablists and the smug amongst us (me) could mope about tonight lacking the star power impact of the Printworks show where Danny Brown, Kelela, Benjamin Clementine and literally Del the Funky Homosapien all came out to play, but that’s all for the trudge home. Right here, right now there’s absolutely zilch to do other than let yourself go and get swept up in the glorious cacophony happening before our eyes. You want Vince Staples absolutely thumping ‘Ascension’? Little Simz winning the dancing feet of the o2 by ripping ‘Garage Palace’ to pieces? My actual real-life dream team of De La Soul and Gruff Rhys being as real-life dream team as you can imagine on ‘Superfast Jellyfish’? It’s all here for you in this wonderfully haphazard setlist where frenzied moments mingle alongside chill contemplation with no damn given for archaic notions like momentum and where exactly zero people care because it all just works perfectly.
The sublime ‘On Melancholy Hill’ ambles in, steals hearts and ambles out. Pusha T is onstage while Mavis Staples looms large above us on giant screens for a ferociously potent ‘Let Me Out’. Shaun Ryder is given a prod every time he needs to say the word ‘dare’ and, look, there’s actual Mos Def bossing both ‘Stylo’ and ‘Sweepstakes’. We’re not even questioning why these humans who definitely don’t need to do this are happy to flock to London’s winter for three minutes of stage time, because there in the middle of it all is Damon. Sure, he’ll sit back occasionally and cede stage front, but there’s never a moment’s doubt this isn’t his show. He can be surrounded by Jehnny Beth, Little Simz, saint Graham Coxon and almost definite Tory Noel Gallagher for the ridiculous positivity of ‘We Got The Power’ but all eyes are on the person that’s brought this celebration together. Prowling the stage, working harder than anyone else, exhorting the crowd to dive deeper into the party. It’s a lifetime of stagecraft combined with deity-given charisma and it’s utterly mesmerising.
The embrace he receives from De La Soul before ‘Feel Good Inc’ tells you all you need to know about the regard he’s held in by tonight’s guests, the commitment that oozes from each performance nixes notions that these are just easy paydays. The stage is all Damon’s though for a triumphant romp through ‘Clint Eastwood’, a song that still bristles with swaggering vitality all these years since it first introduced us proper to Gorillaz’ world. The o2 moves as one, united in adoration for this band that have transcended cartoon concept to become the bringers of the biggest party on this rotten planet. There’s just an ecstatic ‘Don’t Get Lost In Heaven’/’Demon Days’ closer to savour and reflect upon the stone-cold pop fact that nobody puts on a show like Damon Albarn. Stans, the absolute lot of us.
Photo by Denholm Hewlett.