LIVE: Gorillaz @ O2 Arena, London

Gorillaz and their carousel of guests brought carnival to O2 Arena, transforming the newly reopened venue into a celebration of connectivity and communion.
Posted: 12 August 2021 Words: Tom Curtis-Horsfall Photos: Luke Dyson

“Carnival is our culture” proclaimed Damon Albarn mid-set on their second sold-out show at London’s O2 Arena, the second of two shows that have reopened the former Millenium Dome to the gig-going public once again. And ‘carnival’ is precisely what Gorillaz transformed the dormant 20,000 capacity venue into: a celebration of connectivity and communion.

This feeling of shared energy and excitement is almost unique to a Gorillaz show - given that the nature of the project is collaborative, a carousel of guest appearances is to be expected. And that’s what we got. 

Tonight, the sheer quantity of additional names they’d roped in to join them on stage was nearly as long as their list of bangers you’d thought you’d forgotten but definitely hadn’t. The virtual 3D band have more or less occupied charts for over two decades, which is almost as surreal as gawping at a sea of hands ebbing and flowing in the pit, a sensation that’s been seldom experienced of late.

So start small right? Well, barely as the show kicked off they brought out two indie legends in The Cure’s Robert Smith and New Order/Joy Division’s Peter Hook. No biggy, though, the icons on stage didn’t quite give the crowd the lift they’d likely anticipated having been at their first major gig in 18 months. A cynic could suggest that the slew of guest appearances distract from Albarn’s perceived lack of enthusiasm (though, no one could blame the 53-year old for rustiness), but they still know how to set an atmosphere alight. They are a stadium act after all. 

‘Rhinestone Eyes’, ‘Every Planet We Reach Is Dead’, and ‘Kids With Guns’ came next consecutively, big-hitters from Demon Days and Plastic Beach respectively that encapsulate Gorillaz’ knack of winding distinctive basslines into glitchy drops, and making it oh so catchy. The collective energy was soon brimming - adoring hands flailed from beneath trying to grab a now-mullet-less Albarn as he dipped in to bless the front-row like a preacher at a sermon.

Even if some newer tracks do miss the mark, you have to commend Albarn's desire to become more eclectic and esoteric, yet continually direct the project towards the ears of the mainstream. And whilst the focus shouldn’t simply be on the stream of guests, they’re difficult to ignore especially when tracks like ‘Désolé’ with Fatoumata Diawara and ‘Garage Palace’ with Little Simz (both of which showed their faces tonight) are two of the most infectious tracks they have in their setlist, for different reasons. AJ Tracey and slowthai both missed tonight’s gig having shown up for the NHS workers show the previous night - there’s no need to namedrop given their absence, but it’s part of the territory. Even Shaun Ryder made the occasion, despite not knowing where he was or what he was doing.

For the encore all the special guests from the evening filtered back on stage again (after De La Soul’s Pos bounced around for ‘Feel Good Inc.’ and Little Simz joined for an incendiary few verses in ‘Clint Eastwood’) which felt like some kind of benefit gig or tribute show, everyone holding each other and grinning at the crowd. If tonight was a tribute to anything, it’d be feeling like you’re part of something bigger, something special, something social. 

“You’ve only come back stronger” Albarn praised the crowd, emphasising the desire to be and to celebrate together. Given Gorillaz’ ‘the more the merrier’ approach to music, what better group to signify being able to get together once again.

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