Gorillaz Were The Big Unifying Act To Close Primavera

Sharon Lopez

Gorillaz Were The Big Unifying Act To Close Primavera

Sharon Lopez

Well, we made it. The first weekend of Primavera 2022 was a lot, and it’s daunting to think this is just the start — the Ciutat program of club gigs is greatly expanded and will take over Barcelona all week up until Primavera’s second weekend kicks off. Saturday at the first weekend felt like the most crowded and the most densely booked day. Before the sun even set, there was Slowthai, King Krule, indoor sets at the auditorium from Jenny Hval and Mavis Staples and Jamila Woods, Low. Black Country, New Road brought their new songs and multi-vocalist approach after the departure of frontman Isaac Wood; it sounded like a promising future for them. As the night went on there was Caroline Polachek, Bauhaus, Idles, DIIV, Beach House, Shame, Tyler, The Creator, and super late sets from Disclosure and Boy Harsher. Over on the mainstage, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds returned to Primavera for a triumphant, totally transporting set — “O Children” is in the mix now, as is B-side and fan favorite “Vortex,” and the Bad Seeds put their twist on the Cave & Warren Ellis song “White Elephant.” It was unbelievable. If you have a chance to see him this year, you should.

It’s a trip to be in a festival field in Europe and see people lose their shit and sing along to songs like “Red Right Hand” or “The Mercy Seat” or “Into My Arms.” And Cave drew a fervent, giant crowd. But afterwards, things got really crazy. Countless people streamed into the field from across the festival grounds, and one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen at Primavera gathered for Gorillaz, which turned out to be the big unifying act to wrap up the weekend.

Some festivals book this way intentionally. At Bonnaroo, it was common that Sunday night would have one massive headliner, with little counter-programming, drawing everyone in to one final party together — Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, that kind of thing. Primavera more commonly has major headliners back to back with no clear hierarchy, and looking at the poster you wouldn’t necessarily say Gorillaz were a bigger deal than any of the other major names on top of the bill. But that’s not how it played out in person. Gorillaz felt like the main event, the giant crowd-pleaser bringing together generations and nationalities for a giddy dance party that effectively felt like the final word on Primavera’s first weekend.

The Gorillaz set kicked off with a lot of the more Damon Albarn-centric songs — “M1A1” roaring to life, “O Green World,” “Tranz,” “19-2000,” “Tomorrow Comes Today,” “On Melancholy Hill,” the recently debuted “Cracker Island.” Then halfway through, the guests started appearing. Personally, I was shocked Yasiin Bey showed up for his dual features, “Stylo” and “Sweepstakes.” Fatoumata Diawara joined Albarn for “Broken” and the late-era gem “Désolé.” Bootie Brown showed up for his verse on “Dirty Harry,” Slowthai for his on “Momentary Bliss,” and De La Soul for “Feel Good Inc.”

As you can gather from the above, the hits really just kept coming. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Gorillaz live, and it was pretty overwhelming to be reminded just how many of Albarn’s key songs are now from the thing that was once his cartoon side hustle. A little over 20 years on, the world of Gorillaz is vast. Albarn’s career has always been a fascinating oddity, a near complete aberration in pop history — to have two wildly different forms of stardom and influence, to be a pop star twice over with radically different approaches in each instance. To see him bring Gorillaz on the road here in Europe underlined how formative so many of these songs were for a lot of millennials, but how much the project extends to younger fans and to older Blur heads, too.

By the time they closed with “Clint Eastwood,” it felt like everyone at the festival was crammed into this set. Albarn emphasized how colorful, vivid, and sheer fun those decades of Gorillaz music is. For 90 minutes, the set barely ever let up. After a long, busy, exhausting weekend at a festival, Gorillaz did what a final night headliner is supposed to do: leave everyone renewed, euphoric, heading out into the night on the weekend’s highest note.

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