Gorillaz at Malahide review: Damon Albarn's triumphant live extravaganza

The Gorillaz death disco is equally as entertaining and life-affirming as it is thought-provoking

Damon Albarn of Gorillaz on stage at Malahide Castle on Saturday. Photograph: Rory Griffin/Twitter

Damon Albarn of Gorillaz on stage at Malahide Castle on Saturday. Photograph: Rory Griffin/Twitter

 

The first time Gorillaz played in Dublin, they performed behind a giant curtain in the Olympia. They’ve slowly revealed themselves over the years, playing as mysteriously silhouetted figures at the first ever Manchester International Festival in 2005, and blowing their cover when they filled in for U2 at Glastonbury after Bono injured his back.

To quote the Daft Punk song title, Gorillaz are human after all. Indeed, they’re so human that Damon Albarn went on Ian Dempsey’s breakfast show last Thursday and said he hadn’t been to bed. Despite sounding rather tired and emotional, perhaps Albarn never sleeps so he can fit in Blur, The Good, The Bad and the Queen, his solo career and multimillion selling cartoon pop band Gorillaz, who release their second album in little over a year at the end of the month.  

Albarn slurring on national radio that they’ll be playing new material at Malahide doesn’t exactly inspire huge confidence, but the newbies are cleverly distributed in a set that is surprisingly high on hits. Opening with M1 A1 and Tranz, Albarn bounds around the stage in a bright mustard coloured Stone Island top. During Rhinestone Eyes, he jumps down and leans over the front rows, singing through a loudspeaker and keenly pressing the fresh. 

The crowd are a rare and fascinating mix of older fans, who’ve been on the Gorillaz gravy train since the late 1990s, and much younger enthusiasts who already know the new single Humility and other brand new material inside out. As a slogan projected onto the back of the stage reads, ‘Big Brother is watching YouTube’. 

Apart from a puzzling monologue about ghosts in Malahide castle, which Albarn claims to have seen, he shuts up and plays the hits. The band look and sound incredible, resplendent in matching t-shirts and an ice cool member sporting an eye-catching v-shaped bass guitar. Rapper Little Simz threatens to steal the show with a breathtaking performance of Garage Palace. 

Despite two appearances from the support act De La Soul on Superfast Jellyfish and the monster hit single Feel Good Inc, Albarn is the star of the show. He frequently points at faces in the crowd, Malahide castle itself, and the horizon. When he sings he often places his hand on his heart and makes broad sweeping gestures with his hands, giving the impression that whether he was singing The Universal by Blur, or another skittery and twisted pop song from Gorillaz, his demeanour would remain exactly the same. 

Jamie Hewlett’s animations make brief appearances, but Gorillaz in 2018 appear to be more about real band members than virtual ones, and a close-knit family of musicians rather than some clever post-modern joke. A beautiful picture of a smiling Bobby Womack hovers over the stage during Stylo, which was the first musical project the late singer undertook in years simply because his daughter loved Gorillaz. During On Melancholy Hill, the crowd sing along to the gorgeous bittersweet melody as well as the song itself, surprisingly placing it in the Seven Nation Army category of huge anthems. 

Despite all their crowd-pleasing moments, many Gorillaz songs are dark meditations on overpopulation and a world gone mad. The concept behind their third album, Plastic Beach, is coming home to roost with the oceans swarming with human waste and wildlife quite literally choking to death. 

Paradoxically, the Gorillaz death disco is equally as entertaining and life-affirming as it is thought-provoking. Some 20 years since its inception, Damon Albarn’s musical circus is more on the money than ever. 

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