REVIEW: Gorillaz (Blue Hills Bank Pavilion 7/12)

A torrential downpour and flash thunderstorm could not stop Gorillaz – everyone’s favorite cartoon band (that is actually composed of very real, very talented musicians) – from putting on an exciting, danceable gig. Since the debut of their self-titled album in 2001, the collaboration between ex-Blur frontman Damon Albarn and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, the “band” has consisted of 2D, Noodle, Murdoc and Russel – the cartoon element of the band, who featured prominently in the show’s visual displays. 
It was up to Vince Staples to get the night started. Though many attendants were still finding their seats, Staples boosted the energy of the venue with some of the more raucous tracks from his latest album Big Fish Theory, as well as some of his biggest songs from the past few years, most notably the infectious “Senorita” and “Norf Norf.” He also brought out Kilo Kish, who appears on several of Big Fish‘s tracks. Kish would later return as a guest the headliner’s “Out of Body.” 
Once Gorillaz took the stage, Albarn and Co. treated the audience to some truly unique moments, including the live debut of two songs. The first was Humanz bonus track “Ticker Tape,” which features vocals from the legendary songwriter and Martha’s Vineyard resident Carly Simon, who joined the band’s seemingly endless stream of guest musicians. 
The second was “Revolving Doors,” a song that Albarn wrote about Boston on the last Gorillaz tour (featured on the album The Fall). The song features the line, “It’s stormy on the eastern seaboard,” which felt all too poetic as sheets of rain slid off the overhead tent of the BHBP. 
While the band played a generous sampling of tracks from the new album, they didn’t shy away from fan favorites off their old albums, kicking the night off with “M1A1” from their self-titled debut and closing with the final two songs from Demon Days, which sent the crowd out like that final gospel hymn after Sunday church service. Other notable throwbacks were “19-2000,” “Rhinestone Eyes,” “Stylo” and, of course, “Clint Eastwood,” one of the hits that started it all for the band. Though they played a recording of Del the Funkee Homosapien’s first verse from this song, the second verse was an entirely new live rendition with more help from Vince Staples. 
While not every featured artist on these songs made an in-person appearance, the audience could see recordings of Grace Jones, D.R.A.M., Popcaan, Jehnny Beth of Savages and Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays. Unfortunately, the audience didn’t get to hear any of the band’s collaborations with De La Soul. 
Though it’s hard to pick a single song as the top highlight of the evening, the nearly-7 minute rendition of “Sex Murder Party” has to be in the running. Joined by singers Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz (whose all-silver jumpsuit made it look like he had just stepped off a soundstage for the ’60s Star Trek series), they brought the house down on what is already one of the album’s most energetic outings. 
As a frontman, Albarn still contains all the boyish enthusiasm and energy that endeared him to fans as far back as his days with Blur. He was hopping around stage, descending into the audience on more than one occasion, engaging his fellow band members (sometimes with a loving kiss on the cheek) and overall, having as much fun as anyone who paid for a ticket. What is clear is that this is an artist doing what he loves.
The lesson of this show – and of Humanz as an album – is we can still rejoice and revel in the musical experience while keeping a dreadful eye on world events going on around us. Albarn has his eyes set on the future. In response to one crowd member who kept calling for the band to play Blur songs, he replied, “Stop saying ‘Blur.’ That is a figment of the 90s.”
The rest of the band had a cheeky laugh when they started playing the opening lines of a loose, jammy rendition of Blur’s hit “Song 2,” before Albarn stopped them. “This isn’t fucking cabaret,” he said, before releasing his own hearty laugh and getting on with the cartoon music everyone came for.