SAN FRANCISCO — Wednesday evening’s concert by Gorillaz was full of surprises and the enthusiastic crowd at Chase Center was there for it. During the show, frontman Damon Albarn debuted a new song called “Skinny Ape.” A bit of Bay Area history occurred later in the evening when Oakland rapper Del the Funky Homosapien took the stage during the encore and joined the band for a rendition of “Rock the House,” a tune the band hadn’t played live in 20 years.
The “world’s most successful virtual band,” the brainchild of former Blur frontman Albarn and London artist Jamie Hewlett, wowed the near-capacity crowd with a marathon, two-hour set that paired live musicians with their cartoon representations courtesy of three huge screens that flanked the stage. The multimedia extravaganza spanned the musical spectrum from rock to hip-hop, pop and jazz with a guitarist, bassist, drummer, percussionist, keyboard player and five backup singers.
Albarn appeared on stage wearing a pink button-down shirt over a black T-shirt and baggy pants as the crowd went wild. Backed by screens that read “Hello” in a silver script, Gorillaz launched into “M1 A1,” from their 2001 self-titled debut album. At various points in the set, Albarn would leave the stage to either sing at the barricades on the arena floor. For songs like “Last Living Souls” and “Tranz,” the frontman, who seemed determined that the crowd have a good time, would climb atop the barricades and sing while fans grabbed at his legs and security buttressed the singer from behind by holding onto his belt.
At one point, Albarn ventured out into the crowd and returned with a fan’s rainbow Master’s hat and round white glasses. The singer made a joke about always wanting to be Elton John before sitting down at the piano and welcoming opening act EARTHGANG onstage to play “Opium,” from 2020 album Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez.
Albarn debuted a new song called “Skinny Ape” after telling the crowd he had been inspired by the Amazon delivery robots he’d seen in United States on this tour. The song’s keyboard-heavy groove opened up at times with a powerful chorus of “ahhhs” from the backing singers.
“Help me walk again,” Albarn sang before some frenzied punk vamping closed out the song.
Albarn and company were joined onstage by a huge collection of guest stars. Malian singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara appeared in a beautiful flowing robe and gazed at Albarn with a beatific smile as they played “Désolé.” The Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown turbocharged the energy with his appearance, rapping on a new song called “New Gold” slated to appear on Gorillaz’ Cracker Island, scheduled for release next February. Brown also lent his talents to “Stylo” and crowd favorite “Dirty Harry,” from 2005’s Demon Days.
One of the night’s most beautiful musical moments came when Albarn sat at the piano and played the haunting ballad “O Green World.” Albarn sang, “O green world/Don’t desert me now/I’m made of you and you of me/But where are we?”
De La Soul MC Pos (Kelvin Mercer) appeared onstage and asked the audience to repeat after him as he pledged, “I will never let anyone tell me what to think.” Pos then joined Gorillaz for their biggest hit, “Feel Good Inc.” The band closed out its set with its first single, “Clint Eastwood,” joined by EARTHGANG’s Olu and WowGr8.
EARTHGANG got the crowed hyped with its opening set with the help of a live drummer, bassist, DJ and keyboard player. The Atlanta duo’s energetic set featured “The Glow,” “All Eyes on Me” and “Smoke Sum,” from their latest album, Ghetto Gods, released last February. The enthusiastic crowd threw their arms in the air as the duo stalked the stage, delivering their intricate rap verses with frenetic intensity.