Gorillaz Present Song Machine Live From Kong (Performance 1: Asia, Australia & New Zealand)
All of Song Machine Live From Kong‘s crew and musicians – Damon Albarn and 13-piece backing band, plus guest artists – isolated themselves in a South London hotel for weeks ahead of these three shows, and, during an interview, Albarn promised “guests in semi-holographic context, like some sort of original Star Trek beam-up.”
A global live stream with three different time-zone options, Song Machine Live From Kong superimposes the Jamie Hewlett-animated virtual band members – 2-D, Noodle, Murdoc Niccals, Russel Hobbs and temporary ‘bassist’ Ace (for 2018’s The Now Now album) – over the live action, as it happens. To clarify: Gorillaz perform three completely separate live shows, starting afresh for each time zone (Robert Smith joins performances 2 and 3 only – curses! Why not performance 1?). There’s even a special bundle price for stans wishing to check out all three live streams.
Henrie and Scully (from hip Black British radio station, There’s No Signal) host the ‘Preshow Party’ one hour before kick-off. As well as interviewing musicians from the Gorillaz backing band, these presenters also each select a favourite cut from every Gorillaz record to date (cue: respective film clips/sound files) – what a way to stimulate convos within Watch Party groups. Pour moi: Ascension feat. Vince Staples (from the Humanz album) was a peak bedroom-dancing moment (“The sky’s falling, baby/ Drop that ass ‘fore it crash”). This song somehow sounds even more current now than at the time of release. Typical Gorillaz: always ahead of their time.
“Helloooooooo!/ Helloooooooo!/ Is anyone theeeeere?”
M1 A1 (on which Gorillaz sample Day Of The Dead‘s opening sequence) echoes through the basement of Kong Studios – a massive warehouse space decorated with Gorillaz paraphernalia – in London. (Fun fact: this song from Gorillaz’ self-titled debut album also acted as intro tape for both the Humanz and The Now Now tours.)
We hear stage directions as the opening scenes of Sound Machine Live From Kong unfold. Demented keys intro Strange Timez as opener, as the face of The Cure’s Robert Smith appears on the giant screen behind the stage – a goth moon, just like in the film clip – and we’re off and racing; if this song doesn’t propel you to your feet for an unbridled boogie, you’d better check those vital signs!
Lots of stagehands and cameramen are seen darting about, making magic happen. Albarn’s Sharpie-style mullet peeks out from beneath a black beanie and we’re tipping those oversized, round sunglasses – with extra layers of curved bling stacked on top of each gold-glitter frame – were a gift from Sir Elton John (whose animated, pink-suited counterpart appears, seated at a pink piano in the foreground, to take lead vocals on The Pink Phantom this evening).
Even when Albarn whistles his ‘s’es (like the late, much-loved Australian gardening personality Allan Seale), his effortless coolness and joie de vivre make him an absolute pleasure to watch. Switching from guitar to keytar to keyboard with regularity, Albarn also gets up close and personal with cameras, beaming like The Cheshire Cat to show off his so-gangsta gold tooth; Albarn does whatever the f-ck he wants at all times, and should be applauded for it.
Virtual band member Murdoc wanders in front of the camera wearing an exaggerated, freaked-out expression and fluoro-green spacesuit (see header image). Russel sits in the foreground for a spell smoking a pipe while reading ‘The Moon’ newspaper. A dancing dude moves around in space. Hologram, perhaps? Reality or illusion? We’re not quite sure, which makes for thrilling viewing.
Hooky’s in the house to play his trademark low-slung bass on Aries! Albarn plays piano so tenderly during the wonderfully melancholic Désolé (English translation: ‘Sorry’) featuring Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara and this dancefloor meditation truly takes flight.
Albarn looks like he’s buzzing while performing Momentary Bliss with Slaves and slowthai – who rocks a black hoody resplendent with devil horns. During Opium (feat. EARTHGANG), Albarn dances wildly.
OMG, is that The IT Crowd/Toast Of The Town/What We Do In The Shadows (the TV series) actor Matt Berry? It is! He sets up at an eagle-fronted lectern, under eerie red-lighting wash, to read Dennis Hopper’s part in Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey’s Head: “Once upon a time at the foot of a great mountain/ There was a town where the people known as Happyfolk lived…” – genius.
While moving across to a second stage, which is all festived-out thanks to a Christmas tree, Albarn hams it up with what looks like a fluoro-green plastic water pistol. Last Living Souls is super-dancey thanks to an added xylophone hook. “Can I have some water, please?” Albarn inquires as if to prove without a shadow of a doubt that this performance is 100% live. The six backing vocalists particularly shine during this segment of the show.
Then Albarn pulls out his Omnichord – eep, it’s Clint Eastwood! Not the OG version, but the impossibly fast Ed Case/Sweetie Irie Refix, which is “designed to make you move your feet.”
The biggest virtual band in the world was always gonna nail this medium. And rather than just recreating a concert experience, Gorillaz go one louder by incorporating visual effects that wouldn’t be achievable in a regular live setting – not yet, anyway.