Review: Gorillaz Song Machine Live From Kong

Gorillaz took to the “stage” of a different kind last weekend, putting on three live events from the basement of their London-based Kong Studios, enabling fans in different time zones to experience the magick of a 14-strong band plus special guests who performed live as it was streamed into homes via the LIVENow platform.

The global pandemic has meant that musicians, artists and performers have had to channel their creativity in logistical ways to be able to connect with their audiences differently.

The ever-innovative and creative duo behind the “biggest virtual band”, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, made it possible for audiences to enjoy the dynamism of live performances within the comfort of their own homes by putting together Gorillaz Song Machine Live From Kong. Although the live performances were deemed “one-off events”, they could very well pave the way for live music events during an era of unprecedented change.

Watching a live gig from the comfort of your own home may seem peculiar at first given its unfamiliarity, but for someone who frequently went to gigs, this was an amazing experience – to be able to check out a live gig without having to leave the front door, and is something that I most definitely can accept and embrace.

A full-scale production with Jamie Hewlett’s animated Gorillaz characters 2D, Noodle, Murdoc Niccols and Russel Hobbs interacting live with the Damon Albarn-led Gorillaz band, Gorillaz Song Machine Live From Kong was both unique and inspiring.

The second of three performances, held last Sunday (13 December 2020) at midnight GMT, kicked off with a guest appearance from Robert Smith, who took viewers on a journey reflecting the current climate with Strange Timez, the opening track on Gorillaz’ latest album, Song Machine.

Over the duration of the 80 minute-long live-streamed gig, Gorillaz performed songs from their new album as well as favourites from their repertoire of songs including Last Living Souls and Clint Eastwood. While Gorillaz were joined in the studio by more special guests – including Lee John, Kano, Peter Hook, Georgia, slowthai, Slaves and Sweetie Irie, other collaborators Beck, Fatoumata Diawara and Elton John joined the gig virtually.

It most likely was also a strange experience for the band to perform to audiences that were not in sight, but Damon Albarn and the crew appeared to be in their element doing what comes very naturally to them and from the heart, which as an audience member was an absolute pleasure to witness up close-and-personal albeit virtually.  

Seeing the band perform live while watching simultaneously at home, it suddenly dawned on me what I truly love about live music. That being first and foremost about experiencing the energy of some of your favourite musicians vibe together and witnessing that exchange of energy. It is that energy that uplifts and brings joy. That exact same energy was felt just as strong in my front room than had I been at a venue, if not even stronger. Becoming aware of this made me realise that being physically in the same venue, while great and all that, it really does not matter as truthfully we are all connected and that energy and essence of live performance is felt energetically and spiritually regardless of where you are at physically.

Artists and bands touch people’s lives and can impact them just as powerfully from a distance as they can being in the same venue as their audience. Another thing is that the live streamed gig made me have an appreciation for all parts of the production, including lighting and technology, which I may have possibly taken for granted going to gigs held at venues.

What Damon Albarn and crew created with Gorillaz Song Machine Live From Kong was as innovative and groundbreaking as it is game-changing. Experiencing live events virtually gives artists and bands a far wider reach in terms of their audiences and with far less impact on the environment than touring. It also puts more control in the musicians’ hands. Audiences also have the flexibility of times that they can watch, if a gig is being performed at different times for different time zones say like the Gorillaz events, and without the disappointment of a gig being sold out.

Live music is one of the most effective ways of raising the vibes, uplifting people’s spirits, as well as engaging, inspiring and educating audiences. Live gigs streamed in real-time into people’s homes is a wonderful way to experience entertainment at a time when the planet and people could do with some seriously good vibes and in such an incredible unifying way that music does so well. Specific tickets for the Gorillaz events also allowed viewers to link up virtually with friends and watch the event together, enabling all to share in this awesome experience. That said, I’m most definitely looking forward to more virtual live music events that I can stream from my front room. Bring it on!

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. 

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