Review – Gorillaz Brought a Musical Militia to the Mile High

Born sometime in the late ’90s, the cartoon personas of the Gorillaz quickly rose to international acclaim, despite technically not existing in the real world. And since the release of their self-titled debut in 2001, the genre-bending virtual act has amassed a dedicated following of diverse fans who share a love for Gorillaz’s ability to blend seemingly disparate components and experiment with the boundaries of categorization. So it should come as no surprise that fans at Ball Arena showed up early and stayed late when Gorillaz brought their North American Tour to Denver Wednesday night.

Gorillaz, 303 Magazine, Ball Arena, Roxanna Carrasco photography

Concert goers quickly filtered through parking lots, giddy with excitement and unconcerned with the congestion on the sidewalks as they approached the venue. Conversing with friends and fellow fans in line as they moved through security and into the arena, the anticipation of concert-goers continued to build as smoke machines at the front of the stage obscured the growing presence within the pit, setting the stage for the first act of the evening’s doubleheader.

Then the lights suddenly dropped, immersing the arena in darkness and a silence that was penetrated by the sound of cheers ahead of the thunderous arrival of booming chords, strobing lights and the dramatic arrival of the one and only EARTHGANG. The Atlanta-born hip-hop duo arrived on stage like a bombshell, their presence commanding attention amidst the flashing lights and waves of smoke, which billowed relentlessly out from underneath the stage.

Gorillaz, 303 Magazine, Ball Arena, Roxanna Carrasco photography

EARTHGANG opened their set with an explosion and maintained their intensity with booming bass and an onslaught of machinegun fire lyricism. Commanding the crowd as they dominated the stage, the pit pulsed as heads and hands jumped in time with the beat, following the rappers’ lead.

Relentlessly rapping onstage, EARTHGANG took full control of the arena and refused to let the crowd rest, rolling through tracks from their debut album Mirrorland, like “Proud of U,” “Top Down” and “UP,” intermingled with tracks from their recently released LP, GHETTO GODS, including “BILLI” and “STRONG FRIENDS.” And they continued without pause for 30 straight minutes, invigorating the audience with their own joyful exuberance and positive attitude — leaving Ball Arena sufficiently energized for what would prove to be a blessedly late night.

And once sufficient time had passed and Ball Arena was near its capacity, a digital image of retro television appeared out of the darkness, from behind the stage – “Hello, is anyone there,” Damon Albarn‘s distorted and distant voice called out over faint radio static, holding fans attention as they stood stock still basking in the sound waves.

As the television on-screen changed channels, flitting through images that could only be a glimpse into Gorillaz’s 2D world, fans stood entranced by the scenes that danced before them, preceding the arrival of the band members themselves. Wasting no time, Gorillaz made their way on stage, rallying the crowd with the rallying cry of “M1 A1” and its chorus, opening the evening with a fan favorite that promised fans the band knew what they wanted.

Gorillaz, 303 Magazine, Ball Arena, Roxanna Carrasco photography

The band continued on with “Last Living Souls,” from fan-favorite album Demon Days, before charging on to play a range of tracks from albums across their discography. And Gorillaz delighted their long-time fans with no shortage of tracks from early in their repertoire, including tracks from their debut — “19-2000” and “Tomorrow Comes Today.”

Further energizing the crowd, Albarn fled the stage, first stepping onto the speakers below before finding his way to the floor, racing along the barriers of the pit. Then, throwing caution to the wind, the vocalist joined the first few rows of the pit, moving with the audience as each new wave of rhythm washed over them.

Gorillaz, 303 Magazine, Ball Arena, Roxanna Carrasco photography

Gorillaz charged through hit after hit, ensuring fans heard chart-topping tracks alongside lesser-known tracks that remain beloved by long-time fans. Continuing to energize their devoted fans throughout the evening, Gorillaz fulfilled every ask that fans could realistically pose.  “Why do we do this? Why do you come?” Albarn roared at the crowd, before answering exuberantly “Because we fucking love it!”

And they kept nearly 20,000 of their fans captive until the end of the encore, which delivered on every expectation of a true showstopper. Closing out their nearly two-hour long set, Gorillaz saved their best for last, elevating the night to its zenith with “Feel Good Inc.” and a rendition of “Clint Eastwood” that saw the song morph from a slow introduction to a more energetic outro that saw Sweetie Irie help the band bid farewell to Denver.

All photography by Roxanna Carrasco. View the full gallery here.