LIVE REVIEW: Damon Albarn at The Globe Theatre, London

LIVE REVIEW: Damon Albarn at The Globe Theatre, London
Credit: Linda Brownlee

The Shakespeare's Globe theatre is so old and famous that the two original buildings (1599 and 1654) featured on postage stamps in 1995. Slightly younger is Damon Albarn, aged 53, whose 1994 LP Parklife was depicted on a postage stamp in 2010 as part of the "Classic Album Covers" series.

For one night, Albarn, better known for providing a sound more befitting to large stadiums, brought with him a different cacophony of folk and world music ideal for the Globe Theatre. What made this set so special was that Albarn didn't just play the hits from his most successful outfits (Blur, Gorillaz); but instead allowed material from his 2014 solo LP Everyday Robots and forthcoming LP The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows, along with his 2011 opera "Dr Dee: An English Opera" and material from supergroup The Good, The Bad and The Queen to lead.

The sunset and full moon (which amused Albarn) shined; an un-ageing and unchanging Damon entered the stage with an international band. From the saxophone to the West African stringed kora played by Sekou Keita alone, the range of instruments brought immense excitement. Damon had removed his regular mullet haircut he sported in the photos to announce his latest LP. The only noticeable difference was that Albarn now wore thick-rimmed black spectacles his Blur bandmate Graham Coxon wears typically. The set opened with the title track of the new LP (which itself is taken from a John Clare poem entitled "Love and Memory"). Owing to the significant absence of the guitar, the haunting and equally calming elements perfectly befitted The Globe. Other new tracks, "The Cormorant" and "Royal Morning Blue", followed. "Royal Morning Blue" saw Albarn perfect the piano amidst a string section that harmonised The Globe.

The soothing piano melodies continued with 2014's "Lonely Press Play", which had a more urban inner-city vibe. Damon then covered a song by the late Tony Allen (Nigerian-born drummer and composer and Albarn's former The Good, The Bad and The Queen bandmate), "Go Back", which Albarn provided vocals from Allen's Film of Life LP. The funk and dub added another element which got the sardine-packed sold-out Globe dancing. Albarn also played the politically charged "Saturday Come Slow", which Albarn provided vocals for on Massive Attack's 2010 Heligoland LP.

The soundscape changed as Damon played The Good, The Bad and The Queen material owing to the haunting use of the organ and loop drumming. Damon played six songs, including the catchy ska and fairground feel "Three Changes", which was restarted as Damon initially mistook the lyrics. Albarn took this with good humour, and the audience was too entranced with Albarn, who was adroitly delivering and tailoring his lesser-known material to The Globe.

Damon Albarn could have easily have made The Globe putty in his hands by playing just Blur and Gorillaz hits irrespective of whether the music arrangements befitted The Globe site, which dates back to the sixteenth century. It was Damon's use of using material that respected The Globe that allowed made this gig a success. Some of the best cacophonies came from the folk-inspired orchestrated material from Albarn's opera "Dr Dee: An English Opera" based on the life of John Dee, medical and scientific advisor to Elizabeth I. Ironically, some scholars believe Dee was Shakespeare's model for the magician Prospero in The Tempest. The standout track was "Edward Kelley", which Christopher Robson sang with his impressively high voice, who originally played Kelley when the musical was in production.

Whilst Albarn rightly allowed a forum for his better suited lesser-known material to shine, he did not shun the material that made him an international household name. Without Blur and Gorillaz, it is unlikely that this gig would have been able to have been live-streamed across 67 countries. Damon correctly chose these tracks well and rearranged them, befitting to a wider orchestra instead of the original EDM and guitar-led originals. Gorillaz "El Mañana" worked exceptionally well, as did Blur's "Out of Time" and "This is a Low" which played out the show.

Very few musicians can captivate an audience with both catchy mainstream songs where people can sing the words back and hypnotise with enchanting and haunting operatic lyrical soundscapes. Damon has rightly earned respect from all fields in the world of music. His enthusiasm and willingness to travel across the globe to find the best musical inspirations will inevitably ensure that despite having a career in music spanning over three decades to date that the best is yet to come.

Setlist

1. The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows
2. The Cormorant
3. Royal Morning Blue
4. Lonely Press Play
5. Go Back
(Tony Allen cover)
6. Nineteen Seventeen
(The Good, The Bad & The Queen song)
7. Saturday Come Slow
(Massive Attack cover)
8. The Great Fire
(The Good, The Bad & The Queen song)
9. The Tower of Montevideo
10. The Poison Tree
(The Good, The Bad & The Queen song)
11. Lady Boston
(The Good, The Bad & The Queen song)
12. Apple Carts
13. The Moon Exalted
14. Edward Kelley
15. Hong Kong
(Gorillaz cover)
16. Daft Wader
17. El Mañana
(Gorillaz cover)
18. Three Changes
(The Good, The Bad & The Queen song) 
19. Darkness to Light
20. Particles

Encore:
21. On Melancholy Hill
(Gorillaz cover)
22. Out of Time
(Blur song)
23. Nature Springs
(The Good, The Bad & The Queen song)
24. Polaris
25. This Is a Low
(Blur song)

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