Live Review: Damon Albarn @ Boiler Shop, Newcastle (05.12.21) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Photo by Tracy Hyman

For around three decades, Damon Albarn has been one of Britain’s most influential musicians, singers, and songwriters. Thirty years after Blur’s debut album, Leisure, and twenty years after Gorillaz came onto the scene, Albarn’s lengthily-named solo album The Nearer The Fountain, The More Pure The Stream Flows is out and about – as is he himself, embarking on his Piano Tour of Europe and the UK in promotion of his latest creation. Halfway through the UK December leg, he stopped by at the Boiler Shop in Newcastle to display his wares… 

Albarn strode out onto the stage, arms outstretched, as his string quartet, the sole accompaniment to his piano and himself, opened the set with a soothing rendition of In The Bleak Midwinter – to a roar of approval from his crowd. Now 53, Albarn’s appearance seems to have taken an unexpected turn towards the Elton-John-esque (likely augmented by the view of him singing ballads behind a piano), with a dash of Shooting Stars’ Angelos. But his voice has somehow resisted time’s wear, remaining as fresh and distinct as ever.

As the first half of the set was comprised of almost the entirety of his latest release – largely sparse, experimental music inspired by Icelandic landscapes evidently intended to be more thought-provoking than entertaining, the second half was almost exclusively made up of Blur songs, repurposed and rearranged for the tour. With the juxtaposition of melancholic piano numbers with singalong classics like Tender and The Universal, the mood was naturally different in the set’s separate parts. Whilst his new material seemed to be well-received (especially by one man, who shouted “Beautiful!” after just about every piece), the memorable moments of the set were almost entirely within its Blur-centred half, the most unforgettable of these being the accelerating string arrangement outro to Girls & Boys, shortly before the end.

Albarn’s latest album may not be everyone’s cup of tea – perhaps a tad too much dissonance, experimentation, and not enough of the catchy melodies and grooves for which his previous ventures have been famed. But this piano tour offers a little for every taste.

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