Get us in your inbox



  • Music, Sideshows
Gorillaz at John Cain Arena
Margot Bishop

Time Out says

The band’s first Australian performance in 12 years was as nostalgic as it was politically charged

By the time Damon Albarn takes the stage at John Cain Arena, it’s been 12 years since he played to an Australian audience as the frontman of Gorillaz. It should have only been two days – given the band were the headline act at the Friday component of Splendour in the Grass. But we all know how that went.

After the screams die down enough for Albarn to be mostly audible, he addresses the crowd. “Sorry about the weekend. It’s not my fault… acts of God,” he shrugs. “In 2009 they talked about the global economy, but now we have global weather.” He is of course referring to the deluge of rain that descended on the North Byron Parklands just as punters were setting up tents on Friday morning. Videos went viral on social media of tents filling with water and ankle-snapping fields of deep mud that surrounded stages and campsites – it was game over. So when the first few bars of ‘M1 A1’ ring out, it’s clear that this performance is no longer the sideshow it was intended to be, but instead the headline performance Gorillaz has been waiting to give. 

Decked out in a pink gilet and parachute pants (a nod to the colour palette of the band's latest single ‘Cracker Island’), Albarn bounds around the stage. He’s 54 years old, but you wouldn’t know it. There are 11 people on stage in total, eight touring performers including veterans Albarn, Karl Vanden Bossche (on percussion) and Mike Smith (on keyboard) – plus three formidable backup singers. The band is positioned on risers of varying heights, spread across the stage. It’s kind of like seeing a very intense, electro-instrumental orchestra from the future. 

In terms of discography, the set list really jumps around, beginning with 2001’s Gorillaz and jumping straight it 2020’s Song Machine ‘Strange Timez’ right after. The fast tempo arpeggio warms the crowd up, before hitting them with 2005’s Demon Days ‘Last Living Souls’, a sombre track that follows the virtual band’s journey through a post-apocalyptic world. The basslines of this set are heavy, but undeniably, the subject matter is even heavier. 

Gorillaz has never been shy about tackling political issues such as gun violence or climate change (see: ‘Kids with Guns’ and Plastic Beach), but there’s something a little unnerving about this performance given the apocalyptic scenes that preceded it at the Splendour festival grounds. Maybe that’s what Albarn means by the comparison of ‘global economy’ and ‘global weather’ – different decade, new crisis. Throughout the set, we see Gorillaz’s virtual band members 2-D, Noodle, Murdoc Niccals and Russel Hobbs battling through generic wartorn scenes, hurtling through the ocean in a submarine and watching various kinds of fauna falling victim to ocean pollution. 

Albarn takes to the keys to perform a beautifully poignant piano version of ‘O Green World’ – it’s emotional, it’s dark, it’s evocative. “This is a song about how fucked everything is,” he announces before launching into an extended version of ‘Pirate Jet’ (backed by imagery of cartoon dead dolphins). It’s a lot. Thankfully, repose comes in the form of the instantly recognisable and boppy melody of ‘On Melancholy Hill’. From here, the classic tracks keep coming and the mood of the set has a notable shift. 

Dark imagery is replaced with colourful projections of 2-D, Niccals, Hobbs and Noodle grooving and strutting around illustrated metropolises. The heavy bassline of ‘Kids with Guns’ is met with the excited screams of an audience that is hearing it live for the first time in over a decade – or perhaps ever. And by the time a demonic chuckle rings out through the speakers, the crowd has reached an absolute fever pitch. It’s ‘Feel Good Inc’, a song that has clocked nearly a billion streams on Spotify and introduced millions of fans to the band since its release in 2005. A lot of people are here to see it, and it must be said that Albarn seems significantly less invested in performing it than other tracks. 

And yes, we understand why – but it is a little disappointing, and made more so by the omission of Demon Days’ other smash hit ‘Dare’. The encore comes and goes, but ‘Dare’ doesn’t. We wait, we cheer. It’s not going to happen. But if the most criticism we can level at this performance is just one great track being left off an otherwise stellar lineup, we’ll take it. The set goes for nearly two hours – it’s flawlessly performed, thought-provoking and so. Much. Fun.

Written by
Eliza Campbell


You may also like
You may also like