Liner Notes: Gorillaz lights up United Center like rhinestones in the sky

Kelly Rappaport, Reporter

As “Hello? Is anyone there?” rang out through the United Center Monday, crowds bathed in green light and rallied to answer the call from the Gorillaz’ 2001 classic “M1 A1.”

The Chicago stop in Gorillaz World Tour 2022 featured a setlist that showcased the U.K.-based virtual band’s diverse discography, borrowing mostly from its 2005 chart-topping album “Demon Days” and 2010’s environment-focused record “Plastic Beach.” The band also teased a few tracks from its upcoming album, “Cracker Island.” 

Composed of animated frontman 2D, bassist Murdoc Niccals, drummer Russel Hobbs and guitarist Noodle, Gorillaz’s members might be entirely fictional, but their music is as real as the massive crowd of people gathered to see them perform. 

In lieu of animated characters performing, frontman Damon Albarn brought a live band with him: bassist Seye Adelekan played for Niccals, Jeff Wootton was on guitar for Noodle and Femi Koleoso took the drums for Hobbs. The show featured opener EARTHGANG and guest artists included Bootie Brown, Sweetie Irie, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Peven Everett.

Albarn brought energy and spunk to the stage, while live band members performed alongside classic Gorillaz illustrations and videos by Jamie Hewlett. Gorillaz is commonly acknowledged as the most successful virtual band due to its 2013 Guinness World Record for the highest-selling virtual music group.

“Rhinestone Eyes” — a 2010 song that has found new life on TikTok — was a headbanger with lights dousing the floor in red, blue and green to match the accompanying music video. Part of Gorillaz’s appeal is the band’s history of deep, serial

music videos with complex lore and backstory, and the concert experimented with fusing animation and reality. 

Hewlett’s music videos and animation set the tone for the concert. Fans always had something to look at, whether it was Albarn’s crowd-interactive performance or the hypnotic videos on the screen behind him.

“O Green World” began in stark contrast to the colors of “Rhinestone Eyes.” Only a single white light shone on Albarn playing piano, and the stadium went dark. Albarn crooned out the first verse — and then came a burst of visuals, zombie green light, thundering drums and discordant piano. Ravens soared on the screen in a music video as dark and gothic as the song playing. 

When the band began playing their unreleased track “Skinny Ape,” the second teaser for “Cracker Island,” all eyes were glued to the stage.  

Albarn also waited until the last two songs of the encore to give the audience what they were waiting for: “Feel Good Inc.” and “Clint Eastwood.” Despite the songs being 17 and 21 years old, respectively, the crowd sang along as though they were still topping the charts today.

Gorillaz’ new album “Cracker Island” is set to release Feb. 24, 2023 with features from artists including Tame Impala, Bootie Brown, Stevie Nicks, Thundercat and Bad Bunny. 

Twitter: @thekellyreport_

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