Any notion that the popularity of Gorillaz has been exaggerated will swiftly be put to bed by the sight of tonight’s capacity crowd at Manchester Arena.
Avid followers of Damon Albarn’s cartoon outfit will already know that, converse to their national standing in their homeland, they actually hold much greater currency abroad than Blur do, which is a) absolutely right and proper, given that Blur are absolutely rubbish, and b) an encouraging sign, given that it means there’s a great many people ready and willing to go on a stylistic road trip with a band that’s run a special-guest gamut of sufficient scale to include the likes of Mos Def and Jehnny Beth.
Manchester Arena is packed out tonight, in anticipation of what should be a star-studded Gorillaz show in support of their incendiary, most recent, LP, Humanz. That album was a resounding statement in support of the ongoing relevance of Albarn’s band, a testament to their importance - how many other groups of their stature are slowly and intelligently picking apart what’s left of Britain in ideological terms after the referendum on the European Union?
And yet, there’s nothing even remotely conceptual about tonight's gig. The band don’t make an effort to interpolate past glories into the setlist in a manner that’ll be thematically consistent, which is immediately obvious from the fact that the likes of "1999-00" and "Clint Eastwood" are backed, on the huge screen behind the group, by images from their respective music videos. These are clips that are fifteen years old; there's no reinvention. Don't forget, a visual artist, Jamie Hewlett is 50% of Gorillaz, and the fictional band that he drew has defined the group. Regurgitations of past glories shouldn't, therefore, really be acceptable. This isn’t Oasis.
Special guests arrive in plentiful supply, but you’d better hope you know who they are in advance; the storytelling that defined the last Gorillaz tour, which brought Plastic Beach to life, is apparently no longer de rigeur. We get Vince Staples, a present darling of crossover hip-hop, but why he wasn’t further feted upon his arrival is baffling. After all, the attendance of two members of De La Soul to chip in on "Feel Good Inc." doesn’t exactly scream cutting-edge collaboration.
On that note, tonight’s show feels like a missed opportunity - there’s no obvious tie to the themes explored on Humanz, with an eccentric greatest hits set taking its place. It’s a Friday night show, with Albarn on sparkling form as a frontman, and with that considered, it feels almost churlish to be negative. Ultimately, though, Gorillaz’ greatest strength lies in the committed eccentricity of their fanbase; it might not be the best idea to subject that base to long-term neglect.