Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz is still going strong after nearly two decades

The band’s live show has moved past its early use of avatars but is still a visual delight.

When Britpop was at its peak in the mid-1990s, you’d have been hard-pressed to convince anyone that, in 2017, it’d be Blur’s Damon Albarn — and not Oasis — who’d still be playing arenas and making critically respected, culturally relevant music. An even tougher sell is that he’d be doing it as the leader of a high-concept electronic pop act with a multimedia component in which the group is represented by a four-piece band of cartoon apes.

To be sure, many aspects of our present cultural moment would seem unbelievable to someone from the not-so-distant past. Even so, Albarn’s second act as the creative vision behind Gorillaz, which plays Saturday (Sept. 30) at KeyArena, counts as a surprise.

As the leader of Blur, which, for a time, was one of the U.K.’s most popular rock bands, Albarn honed his skills as a frontman and pop songwriter. In 1998, with Britpop fading, Albarn and comic-book artist Jamie Hewlett got the idea for a new project while watching MTV. The so-called virtual band, with music written by Albarn, would be represented visually by cartoon characters that Hewlett created.

CONCERT PREVIEW

Gorillaz

8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 30, KeyArena, 305 Harrison St., Seattle; sold out (800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com)

The project’s anonymous mystique and emphasis on the digital over the corporeal was revelatory back then, when the internet was still a novelty. On stage, Albarn and a backing band performed behind a gigantic projection screen that completely obscured the musicians, displaying their primate avatars instead. Gorillaz was also a financial coup. The band’s 2001 self-titled debut went on to sell more than 7 million copies.

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Gorillaz has moved beyond that cartoony conceit that first defined it. Apart from stepping out from behind the curtain, Albarn has also evolved the group’s sound. Once rooted in old-school hip-hop — the band’s most recognizable tracks, “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc.,” feature verses from Del The Funky Homosapien and De La Soul, respectively — Gorillaz now traffics in urbane, genre-blending pop.

“Humanz,” the fifth and latest Gorillaz record, comes across more like a supercharged playlist than a traditional album, its songs united more by curatorial acumen than a cohesive vision or…

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