For much of Gorillaz’s adventurous and triumphant set Sunday at Austin City Limits Music Festival nearly all the members of singer Damon Albarn’s 13-piece backing band were lit as silhouettes while the vivid animation videos depicting the world’s first “cartoon band” played on the screen behind them.
It was a necessary and effective staging tactic that added separation between Albarn, who is the consistent human face of his creation, and any other human presence involved in the proceedings. But it is also something of a disservice to the players who helped the singer and string of guests put together a musically adventurous and joyous set that at 65 minutes was too brief by about half.
From slow-growing gloom of set opener “M1 A1” it was easily confirmed that what began 16 years ago as an art project between Albarn and animator Jamie Hewlett has evolved into one of the most stylistically adventurous pop/rock acts in modern music.
It was a set where the deceptively intricate and ebullient synth folk of “On Melancholy Hill” could set next to the atmospheric pallor and gloom of “Busted And Blue” without the stylisitic switch feeling too jarring. A light thread of Britpop ran through most of the material, which veered into dub reggae, simple folk, assorted African musics, disco soul and more. As jam-packed with musicianship as the band’s set was, it managed to never reach sensory overload levels.
Rising rap star D.R.A.M., who had performed a few hours earlier on the same stage, joined Albarn for “Andromeda,” joining another half dozen guests vocalists who helped make the stage’s available square footage something of a premium by night’s end. It was also for good effect when Albarn exited the stage for “Strobelite” to let the six backup singers shine, and later his turn at the keyboard let the guest reggae and rap vocalists take the spotlight on “Sex Murder Party.”
And when Albarn and another guest rapper turned the chorus duties on undeniable hit “Clint Eastwood” over to the audience in front of them, it felt natural to have thousands of voices lending a hand to a band where there’s always room for more.
Last Living Souls
Tomorrow Comes Today
On Melancholy Hill
Busted And Blue
Sex Murder Party
Out Of Body
Feel Good Inc.