The frontman laid down a special performance of solo, Blur, and Gorillaz greats in LA.
Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):
By now, Damon Albarn requires little to no introduction for what the English singer has done throughout the last couple of decades is very rarely replicated. Beyond his trailblazing work with Gorillaz and Blur, the multifaceted Albarn expands upon his musical capabilities through his solo output, the likes of which hit a high point with last year's release of The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows. His revered catalog, including tracks from The Nearer The Fountain, was brought to life in its most organic form a week ago at The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and lucky were those who graced the venue's elegance, including ourselves.
The new album's title was derived from the John Clare poem, Love and Memory, and the showing was every bit poetic. As Albarn, the night's guitarist, and the stringed quartet walked on stage, they were met by an enthusiastic crowd ready to gaze in awe at the intimate occasion. Opening with the title track from The Nearer The Fountain, Albarn's piano melodies resounded through the concert hall, pulling on heart strings from note to moving note. The first half of the performance stemmed from the musician's sophomore full-length as he flowed from one track to the next with grace, almost majestically. Royal Morning Blue and standout Darkness To Light were a showcase of the power that resides within a live performance. Albarn and the rest of the ensemble improvise sections and allow the tracks to breathe anew. For example, The Tower Of Montevideo, an effort that boasts a memorable melody, sparked rhythmic clapping from the 2,000+ in attendance as the violins elevated the atmosphere to new heights. Listening through the following track, Polaris, transports one into the Icelandic countryside of Reykjavik that made its way into the album's creative processes. It's wondrous and poised, and Albarn's post-song appreciation for the crowd made this all one communal experience that radiated wonder.
Following this spectacle of Albarn's contemporary songwriting strengths, the second half of the festivities took attendees down memory lane. Tracks from the Blur and Gorillaz discographies received stripped down renditions that were recognized from the opening notes that played. The first of these was Beetlebum from the 1997 self-titled Blur record, a record many hold dear to their hearts as a staple that shaped Albarn's career to come. Albarn also pulled from 13 (1999), Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993), and The Great Escape (1995) through Intermission, Under The Westway, Tender, and The Universal, all of which drew great praise. For Albarn, playing through these tracks in this manner is an act of reflection. His achievements extend past Blur into Gorillaz. On that end, fan favorite choices from virtual band's outputs included On Melancholy Hill, Rhinestone Eyes, and El Mañana. On Melancholy Hill is transcendental as it is, but with violins and a cello ready to reimagine it, it shed its skin and flew high. Like The Tower Of Montevideo, Rhinestone Eyes put the crowd on a united front, clapping along to its infectious nature. To conclude our evening, Albarn looked back to Blur's self-titled and brought forth Song 2, dedicating it to LA Times writer Mikael Wood following an interesting turn of events that occurred just before the show that January 24th. Needless to say, it drew a laugh and once the iconic "woo-hoo" rang loud, everyone joined in and said goodnight on a high note.
Heavy is a term often used to describe the sonic landscape that metal and certain rock acts tread quite exclusively, but it extends to genres beyond the two, as Albarn's only solo U.S. date would attest. The emotional context riding on the night's dedicated setlist was visible and heartfelt as audience members rose to the occasion. Despite the lack of drums or a rhythm section, individuals danced, clapped, moved, and allowed Albarn's hymns to take over, be it for nostalgic reasons or sentimental ones. This was heavy, and should any opportunity arise again for a Damon Albarn solo show, let this feature be a recommending call.
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