The cartoon rock band ditches the screens and brings the funk to world’s longest-running festival. By Andy Fye.
Gorillaz go ape in Montreal, Van Morrison’s new album cooks slowly in London.
Gorillaz Festival D’Été De Quebec, Quebec City, Canada
“Do you think he’ll play that ‘woo-hoo’ song?” the dude in front asks his girlfriend, clearly referring to Blur’s Song 2. The side-eye she shoots at him suggests it’s her, rather than him, who is the fan here, while the look our doubtful ‘bro’’ gives her back suggests he’s less than convinced about Damon Albarn’s artier incarnation in Gorillaz. By the time M1A1’s punky opening blast has kicked down tonight’s door, bro’ has pretty much lost his shit, spending the rest of tonight’s festival set picking his weed-slackened jaw off the ground and apologising for ever questioning his girlfriend. It’s a reaction shared by any other doubters, because tonight Gorillaz simply stun the 70,000 people in front of them. The Festival D’Été De Quebec (FEQ) predates Woodstock and is the longest running rock festival in North America, possibly the world. In its 50th year, the many stages dotted around a park in the city centre host about 1.5 million people over its 10-day run. Two years ago, you could see The Rolling Stones (and everyone else on the entire bill) for just $Can95, less than any single show on their 2015 tour. This year, the headliners include Metallica, The Who, Muse, Kendrick Lamar and Lady Antebellum. In short, FEQ is not mucking about, unlocking the full potential of every cent of its government arts funding. Albarn’s Tonight, loose-limbe however, dtis ravellingall about gang, Damonh who couldn’t be more different from the two rock spectacles they are sandwiched between as headliners. Where Metallica can be onedimensional, Gorillaz provide texture; where Muse can disappear over the top, Gorillaz show restraint without losing any power or impact. The rough-hewn Jonathan Richman glory of M1A1 is a short-lived moment of thrash and trash as Ascension skitters across its drum’n’bass-lite clatter and Gorillaz settle into a Casiotone dub groove that sees Albarn variously dragging out a keytar, melodica and sitting at the piano. For all the toy-town beats and cartoon back projections, however, when he bellows, “Are we the last living souls,” while teetering on the lip of the stage, there’s nothing particularly playful about his angst. The sweaty hair and beard, twinkly eyes, rumpled trousers and refusal to remove an expensive-looking Harrington for the entire show suggests the 49-year-old Damon may be fully enjoying his time on the road away from the family. He might want less of the local delicacy poutine (essentially cheesy chips and gravy) and more showers, but there’s no doubting Albarn’s commitment to the performance as he transforms 19-2000 from DIY Primal Scream into a monster dub, hurls himself at the barriers during El Mañana and then into the audience for On Melancholy Hill, when Strobelite’s disco funk kicks in the party is truly on its way. With vocal assistance from Peven Everett (on Strobelite and Stylo), Kelela (Busted And Blue and Submission) and Danny Brown (Submission), the only difficult note is provided by Jamie Principle’s ‘Pussy Not War’ T-shirt, a jarring slogan that even within the context of Sex Murder Party’s frivolity, makes no more sense than his knee-socks-and-kilt ensemble. Unfortunately, there was also no sign of any ‘special’ special guests tonight, as when Carly Simon turned up for Ticker Tape in Boston just a week before. Shaun Ryder, however, appears on the back projection for Dare and raises a huge cheer, but even he comes off second best when the Stylo car appears on screen for the encore. The now-traditional end of Don’t Get Lost In Heaven melding into the gospel glory of Demon Dayz leaves the audience ascendant, wafting home on their own green happy smoke. In creating a mobile party monster, Albarn has also created what is very much a one-man Damon show, albeit backed by anything up to eight people. By stepping out from behind the screens of the earliest Gorillaz gigs and fronting up to the audience, this a rock band tackling funk and disco like no other. Art rock for people who wouldn’t normally venture anywhere near such a concept. For all his musical magpie personas, Damon Albarn does a fine job compartmentalising them, and judging by the grin on bro’s face as he and his girlfriend depart, one Damon at a time is more than enough for anybody.
“THIS IS A ROCK BAND TACKLING FUNK AND DISCO LIKE NO OTHER.”