After a week of online teases for the new Gorillaz album, 'Humanz', Damon Albarn led the animated band onstage tonight at London's Printworks – to play the whole record in full at an extraordinary gig in London. It was flat-out one of the greatest gigs we've seen in a whole heap of years.
A few days ago, Albarn told Radio 1's Mistajam how he used to sit at home tinkering alone with a budget synth as a teenager. In scenes reminiscent of such private tinkerings, the show's sonics began with a shadowed man out of the spotlight messing around with beats and filters for a couple of minutes, before the playful knob-twiddler emerged into the spotlight.
It was Albarn. For a man on the edge of 50, with one of the world's most eagerly anticipated records to debut in full, plus a backstage green room heaving with the most wildly disparate talents on the planet, he showed not a scintilla of nerves. He was the same preternatural hyperactive energy bomb he's been since Blur began back in 1988.
And so the assault began… It's worth saying early that 'Humanz' is an exceptional record, boasting an absolute cavalcade of hits that were relayed by Albarn and the band at breakneck speed all evening. Right off the bat, the insanely funky 'Strobelite' – featuring a turn from adored house vocalist Peven Everett – loosened the crowd beautifully, boasting a nu-disco swing and melodies that could give George Clinton a run for his money.
'Momentz' followed, with previous Gorillaz accomplices De La Soul bringing a party flow to proceedings, before 'Submission' revealed a jaw-dropping three-way guest-fest as Albarn gave the stage over to Kelela, Danny Brown and Blur's Graham Coxon on guitar. 'Submission' was a slow swaying delight, and typical of what makes 'Humanz' so totally unique – as three completely different musical talents (a crystalline singer, a Michigan rapper and a gonzoid guitarist) all get to shine without once compromising a great song with their prodigious flair.
The hits just kept coming. 'Andromeda' saw Albarn sing a rare solo number, over a backing that hinted at the sleaze of the decades-departed Colchester club it was named after. On the flip side, the unbelievably stirring 'Carnival' saw R&B singer Anthony Hamilton deliver a kaleidoscopic gospel-tinged gem of a song.
Albarn had playfully told the crowd they could get a rewind on any tune as long as they were loud enough. It wasn't until Pusha T stepped out for the incendiary 'Let Me Out' that the crowd agreed that it was time for another bite of one of 'Humanz' tastiest cherries. Both times, Pusha seemed to revel in the enormity of it all. Expect this to be one of the year's biggest club tracks, destined for many more rewinds yet.
Like a clown car in a kids panto, guests inexplicably just kept on endlessly emerging all evening. Zebra Katz and Chicago house legend Jamie Principle (vocalist on wayback Frankie Knuckles classics like 'Your Love') performed the insanely catchy 'Sex Murder Party', while the gloriously angular Benjamin Clementine guested on 'Hallelujah Money' – the only time Albarn's songwriting on 'Humanz' sees him revert playfully back to his love of waltzy time signatures.
But nothing quite compared to the album's finale, 'We Got The Power'. On stage, stood alongside the commanding figure of Savages' Jehnny Beth, was Noel Gallagher – on guitar and singing the chorus of quite the most affecting, defiant and joyful song you'll most likely hear all year. To see two men, who famously spent an era being hateful towards each other, united on stage was one thing. But after the shitty week London's just had, it was inescapably moving to hear something so unrelentingly positive and galvanising – sung by two former sworn enemies. What can I say: there were tears.
In short, 'Humanz' is a really special record – and Albarn really triumphed in delivering it in such a mesmerising way. Make sure you give it a listen when it drops on April 28th.