INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Classic Pop FEBRUARY/MARCH 2015 - by John Earls
DAMON ALBARN: ROYAL ALBERT HALL, LONDON
As pretty and soulful as Damon Albarn's debut solo album Everyday Robots is, its melancholia wouldn't seem to make for a fun night out. Not someone beloved of the straightforward path, the promise of a two-and-a-quarter-hour career retrospective could have been a slog though Albarn's obscurities, especially when he starts with a Gorillaz B-side, Spitting Out The Demons. Yet the energy Albarn puts into that song typifies a stunning performance. Largely a studio-bound family man now, the stage hasn't seen enough of Albarn lately. Blur became huge partly thanks to Albarn's full-throttle live persona, where the pent-up anger of someone who never fitted in burst out into a reliably explosive show. That wide-eyed, ferociously grinning demon is literally all over the place here, constantly wandering into the middle of the audience to sing straight into the faces of random fans. Security guards initially try to prevent the crowd from bundling to the front of the stage but, once Albarn shouts "Let everyone through!", the stuffy Royal Albert Hall is transformed. Albarn had begun by revealing he'd overcome his nerves at playing such a stately venue by imagining it as a pub called The Albert. Sure enough, after the tooth-rattling bass of Kids With Guns, he grins: "Now we're in the pub." Backing band The Heavy Seas are mightily impressive throughout, playing Gorillaz songs with the groove so missing from their Glastonbury headline show. Songs from Everyday Robots are lifted by the band too, with its title track given a layer of menacing dub missing from the studio. Never mind Blur, Albarn would be wise to make an album with The Heavy Seas while their live alchemy is so potent.
As if the return of Albarn as a classic frontman wasn't enough, the special guests lift the show into something truly remarkable. Afel Bocoum and Madou Diabeté lend a hushed grandeur to two songs from Mali Music. De La Soul are more manic than a band of their vintage have any right to be on Feel Good Inc and Graham Coxon gives everyone a warm glow in renditions of End Of A Century, Tender and Charmless Man's B-side, The Man Who Left Himself.
For once, it's not a mini Blur reunion that garners the biggest cheers. That's reserved for Brian Eno. Appearing on stage for the first time in decades for the closing Heavy Seas Of Love, his surprise appearance is met with chants of "Eno! Eno!" He sings his verses beautifully. It's that kind of night.