Live Review: Gorillaz’s Demon Dayz LA Festival @ Pico Rivera Sports Arena, October 20, 2018
It’s hard to think of another contemporary act that could have pulled off what Gorillaz did with Demon Dayz LA this past Saturday at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena grounds. Held at the unique rambling, aging (and dusty) venue–decorated throughout with iconic Gorillaz character imagery–miles outside of Los Angeles proper, the one-day festival had a special feeling from the entry gate to the main stage, with local flourishes and messages of community and positivity echoed throughout the musical sets.
Appropriately, Mexican culture figured prominently across the festival–from the venue itself primarily used for banda concerts and rodeo events, Demon Dayz branded papel picado banners overhead, mariachis serenading at the entrance, a Dia de los Muertos skeleton procession announcing Gorillaz set (not to mention a strong contingent Latino Gorillaz fans among the well varied crowd).
It was particularly heartening to see multi-generational groups of Gorillaz fans—parents and kids, older and younger siblings, many dressed in matching themed outfits for the occasion. This is a band, now 20 years old, that uniquely cuts across demographics and allows fans of many ages to enjoy it on different levels.
There’s no denying that merchandising featuring the iconic band’s characters is a big part of appeal of the Gorillaz experience for a lot of the fans. The on-site “G Store” featuring exclusive items for sale had a long line for admittance for throughout the day, as did the regular merch booths.
Highlights from the lineup were plenty and varied. East L.A.’s Las Cafeteras got things going with their socially-conscious cross-genre bilingual tunes and some inspiring political between song banter. Chilean Ana Tijoux and Britain’s Little Simz served up fierce rapping dexterity of different shades on the second stage, the latter also killing her energetic Gorillaz track “Garage Palace.” Sexy (and often quite funny) R&B and beats from new L.A. resident from D.R.A.M., who filled the big stage with his big personality. He later was a highlight during Gorillaz’s set on his feature “Andromeda”–their newest massive crowd-bouncer. L.A.’s young and funky neo-soul the Internet rose to the occasion on the second stage. Led by a charming Syd, who marveled that we came to see her band while Erykah Badu was audible on the big stage behind her.
But really everything was preamble to Gorillaz’s headline set, an epic 30-song career spanning (and rumored last for while) tour across their half-dozen albums. Tellingly, 2017’s comeback LP Humanz was barely touched on, in favor of this year’s The Now Now, which got half of its tracks played, including a first time live performance with guitar legend George Benson on single “Humility.” As might have been expected, 2005’s Demon Dayz figured prominently; it’s clear Albarn sees it as something of the classic in their catalog.
No Gorillaz show is complete without De La Soul, this being no exception. Their star features on “Superfast Jellyfish” and “Feel Good Inc” brought down the house as per usual. The signature Gorillaz mix of uptempo beats, downtempo grooves and melancholic ballads and the constant in and out of guests (Singers Peven Everett and Jamie Principle, and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble particularly had memorable turns) make for an uncommonly engaging live show. It breathes, ebbs and flows, takes one up and down organically; there are simply no dull or boring moments. This sounds easy enough to accomplish, but is rarely the case in many a band’s live show; no “time get a beer” moments in a Gorillaz show.
The singular moment that many immediately shared online—a “cross pollination” as Albarn called it–was of course the “cover” of Blur’s “Song 2” with the appearance of Graham Coxon on guitar. To see them share a smile performing the massive hit tune in this setting, after all their history was touching. A one-time occurrence, it put a signature stamp on what was already a special day.
Of course when you’re talking about Gorillaz, you’re talking primarily about Damon Albarn, its leader and mastermind (a word often tossed around, though rarely as appropriate as here), who at several points during their raised fists and bared a huge grin, clearly humbled, grateful and victorious over having realized this festival. At many points he spoke warmly to the assembled, noting “there’s a really beautiful spirit out here,” calling us the “chosen people of California.” One has to believe that this particular turnout out in outer Los Angeles, while scores smaller than massive events he’s been a part of in his native country (50,000+ for Blur in Hyde Park, for example) holds special meaning for him. No doubt the day was equally as special for attendees of the festival.
NB: For all the feel good vibes of the festival programming, the infrastructure of the venue did not quite match it–the facilities are old and barely functional, the main stage was on a dusty dirt lot with uneven ground, and parking was quite difficult to navigate out of in the dusty dark, taking upwards of two hours for many to exit. Let’s hope that future events can bring some revenue to the venue with some money put into improvements.
Photos by Sung. Full photo gallery here.