Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Concert Review: Gorillaz Close Tour With Triumphant Miami Sendoff

It takes a lot to get this writer to miss a Dolphins game. It takes something like one of the most lauded, singular alternative acts since the turn of the century playing the final show of a rare world tour at Miami’s largest indoor venue—not a common occurrence. This past Sunday night, it was decidedly worth missing the game to see Gorillaz perform a triumphant show to a packed crowd at FTX Arena.

Nearly 25 years into its career, the “virtual band” alternative/hip-hop project of Britpop icon Damon Albarn has been through many different phases. Its beginnings as a perceived Blur side project quickly gave way to something more consequential—these days, a strong argument could be made that Gorillaz has eclipsed Blur in both commercial popularity and artistic merit, especially on the strength of its beloved first two records. Despite a mid-career dip that could be characterized as the band’s lean years, with a handful of LPs that polarized both critics and fans, the group has emerged into a fruitful and collaborative streak that lead to 2020’s well received Song Machine and its current 2022 World Tour.

According to setlist.fm, Gorillaz has only played 266 shows in its entire career—an average of roughly 13 concerts per year since its inception. That’s part of what makes this 2022 World Tour—and its trek-ending Miami show—more of a capital-E “Event” than the typical arena concert.

Returning to Miami for the second time (coincidentally, the group’s only prior show in South Florida was headlining the III Points festival, which celebrated its 2022 iteration this past weekend with headliners LCD Soundsystem and Rosalía) on something of a tear following the recent release of singles “Cracker Island” and “New Gold,” the group seems to be enjoying its most fertile period in many years. And yet in a pleasant surprise, even amidst this prolific era, the set list leaned heavily on the group’s first two records—the self-titled Gorillaz and Demon Days—which are generally considered to be its high-water mark.

Flanked by a massive band that included five backup singers and six additional musicians, Albarn led the crowd through a 26-song set that included nearly every hit from the group’s increasingly impressive repertoire, from “Clint Eastwood” to “Dirty Harry,” with plenty of cuts in between that didn’t reference the acclaimed actor/director. Other highlights included “19-2000,” “Kids with Guns” and a cheekily false-started rendition of “Humility,” though there was nary a dull moment during the concert, which was augmented by cinematic visuals featuring the group’s four “virtual” members.

As a longtime fan of Damon Albarn and his many projects, but having never previously seen him live, I had always operated under the assumption that the English musician would project a stage presence that was relatively aloof, perhaps even disengaged. I am thrilled to report how wrong I was. From the first notes of set opener “M1 A1,” Albarn was a veritable ball of energy in fronting the show. He quickly abandoned the stage to engage with the front of the standing GA floor, perching himself atop the barricade and coalescing with legions of rapturous fans. At one point, he went into the pit mid-song, mingling with fans as he sang, before eventually making his way up a number of stairwells into multiple sections of the lower level (including my own) to further consort with attendees. These antics did not go unappreciated — immediately after Albarn had left our section and wrapped up an exultant rendition of “19-2000,” I heard someone behind me assert “I can die happy now.”

And yet, for all of his rock-star heroics early on in the night, Albarn’s most impressive quality in fronting the show was his willingness to cede the spotlight to collaborators. Whether it was a member of the band or one of the many special guests who joined the core group of musicians on stage throughout the night—which included Bootie Brown, Del the Funky Homosapien and De La Soul—Albarn never hoarded the limelight, receding to a piano toward the back of the stage and allowing those other vocalists to own their moment.

Following a substantive main set that was not lacking for strong material, the group unleashed its heaviest hitters for the five-song encore, which included its newest hit in recent single “New Gold” along with early cuts and certified classics “Feel Good Inc.” and “Rock The House” and the show-concluding one-two punch of contemplative Demon Days closing tracks “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven” and “Demon Days.”

For all the praise that I could lavish on this show, from its impressive set list to its emphatic performers to the remarkable visuals that accompanied the music throughout, perhaps the most exceptional aspect was the celebratory mood that permeated the night—one that was befitting the last show of a long world tour for a group that seems to be taking a well-deserved victory lap. By the time that unmistakable laugh rang out to kick off “Feel Good Inc.,” there was nothing left for Albarn and his band to accomplish—they had already treated Miami to a show that was far more indelible than any prime-time Dolphins game.

SET LIST:

  1. M1 A1
  2. Last Living Souls
  3. Tranz
  4. White Light
  5. Tomorrow Comes Today
  6. 19-2000
  7. Humility
  8. Rhinestone Eyes
  9. Cracker Island
  10. O Green World
  11. On Melancholy Hill
  12. El Mañana
  13. New Genious (Brother)
  14. Empire Ants
  15. She’s My Collar
  16. Kids With Guns
  17. Andromeda
  18. Dirty Harry
  19. DARE
  20. Momentary Bliss
  21. Clint Eastwood

ENCORE:

  • New Gold
  • Rock the House
  • Feel Good Inc.
  • Don’t Get Lost in Heaven
  • Demon Days
James Biagiotti
James Biagiotti
James Biagiotti is a native of Boca Raton, a marketing professional in South Florida, and the former Web Editor of Boca Raton magazine. He is an avid music fan who spends far too much time listening to, dissecting, and traveling to see his favorite bands. He is also, unfortunately, a devoted Miami Dolphins fan.

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