It must be said that even the most eager Damon Albarn fan would be hard pressed to remember the prolific songwriter’s complete output when put on the spot.
There’s Blur and Gorillaz of course, then supergroup-and-album The Good, The Bad & The Queen, and the Monkey: Journey To The West opera… Oh, and Mali Music, plus a slew of film scores, production roles and demos… And now the solo album proper, ‘Everyday Robots’.
Basically, Albarn’s a busy bee. With this in mind, Clash steps into Brockley’s glorious and intimate Rivoli Ballroom – still rocking the original 1950s décor – ready to embrace a set from one of England’s greatest and most beloved songwriters of the past 25 years. The anticipation in the air is palatable.
There’s just a quick wave and a “Glad you could all make it, with the tube strike…” before Albarn and his band, The Heavy Seas, smoothly slip into the gentle ‘Lonely Press Play’, opening the night on a more mature note. The singer is suited and booted, and lets the melancholy ‘Everyday Robots’ follow – leading us to wonder if this is to be a new chapter for Albarn, one where the iconic jumping frontman of the 1990s is not going to make an appearance.
Suddenly a shout of, “Can I have a selfie, Damon?” lands from the crowd, the irony not lost on a man who literally just sang, “We’re everyday robots on our phones.” “Has the human condition fallen so that you can’t wait one hour and 20 to do that?” Damon replies. “After, sure.”
Still laughing and armed with a melodica, Damon leads his band into a charged ‘Tomorrow Comes Today’, which causes the classic ‘shy boxer’ stance and lad about town swagger to materialise. It’s a beautiful thing. The big fans then get a treat with the twanging ‘History Song’ before the momentum slows once more for the haunting and autobiographical ‘Hollow Ponds’.
The wonky pop of Gorillaz’s ‘Slow Country’ gets an airing for the first time in over an decade, sounding even better than the recorded version, before a truly stonking rendition of ‘Kids With Guns’ raises the chandeliered roof, a clear highlight.
‘Three Changes’ brings heaps of attitude and demonstrates that despite Albarn’s ever increasing status as a member of the songwriting royalty, he’s still an absolute lad under it all. “I think I’m gonna have to go back to T-shirts onstage,” gasps the sweat-soaked frontman.
Blur’s ‘All Your Life’ finishes the first attack before The Heavy Seas return with Kano in tow for a ‘Clint Eastwood’ with fresh rhymes added – hair-raising in such close quarters. A local choir is rushed on stage for the brilliant pop of ‘Mr Tembo’ (“It’s about an elephant”) and ‘Heavy Seas Of Love’ before the crowd is lulled gently away with fantastic sing-along of ‘This Is A Low’, a pitch-perfect end to a perfectly judged performance.
Nostalgia delivered sparingly but sharply, and offering plenty of his current guise beside archive arrangements, the Albarn of 2014 departs to a salute from Clash – to him, and his talented Heavy Seas.
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Words: Sam Walker-Smart
Photography: Andy Sturmey
Click the main photograph above to scroll through a gallery of shots
Related: read our review of ‘Everyday Robots’