Last night Dubai played host to the Gorillaz' Humanz Tour at Fiesta de los Muertos at the Autism Rocks Arena.
UK grime artist Stormzy went down, well, a storm, although it was mildly depressing that his best received track was a remix of the tedious Ed Sheeran floor filler Shape of You, rather than one of his own compositions which, along with the UK grime scene in general, have given black urban British music a voice that doesn't involve impersonating an American hip-hop outfit.
Enter Gorillaz, opening up with M1 A1 from their 2001 self-titled debut. There seemed a certain synchronicity to this particular band playing in this particular venue. I first saw Gorillaz play live at the Manchester International Festival sometime in the early 2000s, at one of their first live gigs.
We were promised a technologically stunning show where the world’s first animated band would appear in their full virtual glory. What we got was a bunch of musicians behind screens with some projections.
Now, over a decade later, Gorillaz seem to have given up on the animated advancements, save for some projected cartoons (perhaps in part due to the much-publicised fallout between frontman Damon Albarn and co-founder Jamie Hewlett, of Tank Girl comic fame), but not really found themselves a new identity either.
They’ve replaced technological innovation with supergroup collaborations, and while the list of co-conspirators over the years is impressive, you can’t realistically take them out on every tour, particularly when some, such as soul legend Bobby Womack, are no longer on this Earth. This meant sections of the show were strangely focusless, while a backing track took over frontman duties.
Similarly, the Autism Rocks Arena itself seems to be struggling to find its own identity since it was launched in March of last year, with a reportedly rather short set from American R&B artist Nicki Minaj.
Since then we’ve had big name cancellations courtesy of Elton John, traffic problems with concert goers abandoning their cars on the only road leading to the venue after hours-long waits to access Guns N' Roses, and now a concert that, only five hours ahead of the doors opening, declared itself a "family friendly" event where alcohol would not be served.
The landowners cited the mixed demographic of the audience, saying: "it has become clear that the Halloween-themed music festival attracts an abundance of families, teens and children.
"We hope that the decision to make it dry will foster this family atmosphere and respect the customs of the land in which it is being held."
Nonetheless, Gorillaz gave their all. On Melancholy Hill remains one of the five prettiest songs ever written, and they played it in an appropriately beautiful manner. Guests popped in and out — Little Simz was something of a revelation with her rasping high octane rap, and the encore of Clint Eastwood, featuring two of Dubai's current or former finest, in the form of Eslam Jawaad and Malikah was a bass-heavy delight.
Overall, it was a great gig. But you’d have to really want to be there. The fence-sitters may wish they’d saved the journey.