On Sept. 23, Gorillaz headlined the Life Is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas, thrilling spectators with funky-fresh Humanz tracks like “Strobelite,” “Ascension,” and “Sex Murder Party.” Just one weekend later, another Vegas music festival, Route 91, became the site of the largest documented mass shooting in U.S history. News later surfaced that the gunman had rented a room overlooking Life Is Beautiful, and may have intended to target that event instead.
So Gorillaz leader Damon Albarn seemed in an understandably somber mood when the band played Los Angeles’s Forum Thursday night. Sitting wearily at his piano, Albarn shook his head, exasperated, and sighed to the capacity crowd, “It seems like every week, the world gets slightly crazier. Right?”
This was Albarn’s introduction to an uncharacteristically rustic, homey, and alt-countryish new Gorillaz song, “Ode to Idaho,” written during a much-needed off-the-grid respite just this week. “For two days, we disappeared to Idaho — went fly-fishing, ended up in Bruce Willis’s house,” Albarn revealed with a grin. (Willis, who owns multiple properties in Idaho, played an action hero in Gorillaz’s hot-pursuit music video for 2010’s “Stylo,” which aired on the Forum’s video screens minutes later.)
“Idaho, Idaho/There’s a beauty on the road,” Albarn crooned gently over a bed of twangy slide guitar and against a backdrop of tour-bus road footage, dropping in a sly mention of Willis’s idyllic ski lodge.
Albarn and company made no overt political statements Thursday — surprisingly, they didn’t play “Hallelujah Money,” their biting social-commentary collaboration with Mercury Music Prize nominee Benjamin Clementine, which they released on Inauguration Eve this past January. Instead, Gorillaz recruited a slew of other special guests (De La Soul, Del the Funky Homosapien, Pusha T, D.R.A.M., Vince Staples) for a joyously beats-driven, booty-shaking dance party that had Forum revelers at least temporarily forgetting all about the “crazy world” outside.
But when Jehnny Beth of British/French post-punk band Savages took the stage for the triumphant anthem “We Got the Power,” throwing herself bodily into the crowd and roaring, “We got the power to be loving each other/No matter what happens… My dreams don’t know fear/I got my heart full of hope/I will change everything/No matter what I’m told,” it was a moment both celebratory and socially conscious — demonstrating music’s ability to unite and heal in the most troubled of times. Life is still beautiful, indeed.