Damon Albarn, gig review: 'The Blur frontman won't be leaving the past far behind'

Sundance Festival, Utah

When Damon Albarn announced last May that he was stepping out as a solo artist, the prospects for a new Blur album seemed further away than ever. Add to that a Blur tour of Australasia, scheduled to take place this week, that was inexplicably canned in the lead-up to Christmas, without warning or clear explanation. Recent concerts in Japan, tinged with a sense of closure, seemed to suggest the band might be calling it quits, should Albarn’s solo career take off.

If he was still dancing around the issue, this week's intimate performance at the Sundance Film Festival – where Albarn previewed five new tracks from his upcoming debut solo release, Everyday Robots – suggested the band’s legacy remains vital to any future success.

Treating the invite-only audience to an acoustic session, buoyed by a four-piece string section, the new music still felt remarkably reminiscent of his recent studio work with the band. The set was gentle and reflective.

"Lonely, Press Play" mourned the absence of loved ones and the feeling of isolation. Everyday Robots was, according to Albarn, “inspired by an elephant”, while "Hollow Ponds" referenced key dates in his life, including the 1976 summer drought. “Read into that what you will,” he offered later, when quizzed about its lyrical content. “And let’s not talk about Australia.”

Indeed, despite being affable and engaging during his lightening-quick stop in the ski town of Park City, where Sundance is held each year, Albarn kept frustratingly mum about the future of Blur. He wouldn’t even comment on what his solo plans might be (aside from a just-announced headline slot at Latitude), and whether he’d ever, in fact, record with Coxon and co again.

“I'm going to be promoting this record, I suppose, in one form or another,” he told Rolling Stone, prior to his Sundance performance (an earlier, shorter set also occurred last Sunday, inside the festival’s own Sundance Channel venue). “I don't know how that will completely manifest itself.”

Judging by the five songs he premiered, the solo record – produced with Richard Russell, and due out on April 28 – sounds as good as anything he has put out in the past decade. What’s more, he’s evidently keen to perform it live, together with a clutch of Gorillaz and Blur songs ("On Melancholy Hill" and "To the End" were both dusted off to close his main Sundance set).

Yet North America only really warmed to Albarn through his success with Gorillaz, which in the US easily outstripped anything associated with Blur. When they headlined Coachella last April, there were some who wondered, out loud, “Who?”

In fact, Albarn’s fan base in the States remains pegged firmly under the moniker of cult. A curiosity factor remains – a YouTube spokeswoman claimed “festival-high enquires” when quizzed about Albarn’s main Sundance show at their festival HQ – but it was far from packed when he arrived on stage, just after 11pm, on Sunday night.

Still, there was a logic to the move. Sundance is an increasingly popular spot to test out new material, or merely promote a new upcoming release. Stuart Murdoch reconvened his Belle & Sebastian brand late on Monday night, at the festival’s ASCAP Music Cafe (tying in with his directorial debut, a bouncy musical called God Help the Girl, starring Emily Browning).

Further on up Main Street, Bad Seed Nick Cave also rocked up, for a three-song solo turn at the piano, following the premiere of 20,000 Days on Earth – an extraordinary, abstract documentary about his life and work, featuring a bizarre flurry of cameos, including Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue.

But it was Albarn who arguably took the biggest risk in coming up to the snow-capped peaks of Utah.

Using Sundance as a launch-pad for his new album was surprising, given the bulk of his fan base lies across the Atlantic. The new music, while exquisitely performed, feels too subtle, too gentle to hold any substantial appeal for North American audiences, which was presumably not the aim of this dash through the snow. For that, he’ll need to craft another "Song 2".

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup