“How you doing mate? Catch a late flight?” Damon Albarn asked De La Soul’s DJ Maseo Sunday night, just before dazzling mass single “Feel Good Inc.”
The long-tenured rap crew was home to turn out the enduring radio hit from 2005. Ditto Del the Funky Homosapien for the evening-wrapping “Clint Eastwood.”
The big chorus-powered one-offs punctuated one of ACL’s most ambitious headlining sets to date.
“Are we the last living souls?” Albarn, the Gorillaz singer and art director, posited earlier on the Honda Stage. A five-person choir heightened his melodies, and the 49-year-old Blur singer offered a dystopian vision full of scrawling cartoons and wired Britpop.
In a black Gorillaz hoodie, Albarn ushered in sweater season as joyous Texans clapped—and scratched their heads, bewildered. This fully realized Gorillaz gig had bunches of moving parts, and boy was it a lot to breathe in.
“It’s our last night,” Albarn told Zilker Park. “We’ve been here for five weeks and we’ve had a very good time.”
His band’s hour-plus bonanza was a playscape. The Gorillaz moniker—where members 2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle, and Russel Hobbs are animated characters with an accompanying storyline that peppers the public output—mostly exists for Albarn to flirt with genres he digs like rap, soul, trip-hop, and reggae. It’s the same live.
Dancehall artist Popcaan raps on “Saturnz Bars,” and rather than omit his song-making verse because he wasn’t in Austin, Albarn’s band beamed it on a big screen, and filled in the blanks with swelling live orchestration.
This is a festival headliner most ACL attendees know of but few have thought critically about. The two big hits are fine singles, but what about the accompanying cartoons or the buoyant disco ballads like “Stylo,” belted out by touring R&B vocalist Peven Everett?
It’s ponderous and cinematic, zip-tied together by captivating songs.
The cosmic synthesizers zoomed. The gothic “Sex Murder Party” was seasonally spooky and unhinged. Fans watched the genre collage all the way back to where the dueling songs from the Killers, appearing simultaneously at the American Express stage, mixed in near the Miller Lite pop-up bar.
The final third of the show was a rotating showcase for lesser-known rappers like Kilo Kish and Zebra Katz. Here Albarn slid to the background and let the colorful circus take a life of its own. Kudos to him for building such an open-sourced, inclusive touring platform.
Almost 20 years into a fake band, Gorillaz is still challenging conventions.