After months and months of waiting, it finally came and went. The Gorillaz played their heavily anticipated Red Rocks show last night, and despite the rain and cold air, the line to enter the venue was backed down the entirety of the park’s ramps. But before the show got started the question was who would be brave enough to open a sold-out venue full of fanatics clawing for an act that has not toured in North America in seven years? Vince Staples. The California rapper jumped on stage right at 7:30 p.m., just as advertised, to a giant orange screen hazed by a thick fog. The bright light resembled that of a warm, smoldering light, which was ironic considering the frigid and rainy air. Staples appeared small in stature as he rapped up and down the stage in front of the large, covered equipment preserved for the following act.
“Raise your hand in you’ve ever been in love,” commanded Staples.
Staples’ set started off with a lower tempo, only to drop quickly into a funkier number, “Homage.” Building anticipation could be felt throughout the set as the seats filled and the clock edged closer to the main performance. The power of Staples’ beats boomed over videos of cars driving and goldfish swimming, which was an interesting substitue for the lack of crowd interaction with the MC, who kept his banter straightforward and limited.
Just before 9 p.m., Damon Albarn — the multi-instrumentalist brain behind the world-renowned act — clad in a hoodie and jean jacket, hopped on stage along with the rest of his sizable Gorillaz entourage. In addition to the extensive musicians and backup singers, the massive screen projected samples of videos from the band’s past consisting of the usual suspects — 2D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russel, the virtual members of the group. After an astonishing rendition of Plastic Beach‘s “Rhinestone Eyes,” Albarn charmed the audience with a memorable anecdote about how he felt about playing at Red Rocks — “I always carry a stone with me, and tonight I feel like I am playing inside a stone. My stone and I are very happy,” he said, referencing a leather pouch around his neck.
Alternating versions of the cartoon characters played on loop behind the performers, varying from different periods of their music. The older tracks inspired nostalgia while also offering the tingles of a new experience from the live alterations of fan favorites. The beautiful, yet action-packed music video for 2010’s “On Melancholy Hill” accompanied the sweet croons from Albarn, and “Saturn Barz” from their latest release Humanz turned the lights completely down, with only the raised phones and light from the crowd for illumination.
Perhaps the most notable element of the night was the incredibly extensive group of guest stars. Staples, Peven Everette, Jamie Principle and even De La Soul joined the event to contribute to Humanz‘ tracks. Camille Berthomier, who joined Albarn for “We Got The Power” paid homage to the fans, pointing out the bravery that it would take to engage with the weather on such a night. Coming from the perspective of someone in the crowd, the encouragement was both appreciated and deserved.
After a short break, the encore kicked off, and with just a few moments left in the set, hopes were high for what was left in the show. Every band has those few songs that can be counted on, and for Gorillaz, “Feel Good Inc.” and “Clint Eastwood” are just such ones. And Gorillaz kept everyone on their toes, saving those tracks for last.
But even after the monster hits dropped, the night didn’t end like most Red Rocks shows with a mass exodus into the night right away. Soaked and tired, the devotees waited with unrealistic hopes for another track, but alas, the house lights brightened and Gorillaz was officially done. Hopefully, those who literally waited out the storm last night will not have to wait another seven years for the act to return.
All photography by Ryan Good.