Damon Albarn, Rivoli Ballroom, gig review: 'A genuine thrill'
Nick Hasted has been a film journalist since 1986. He writes about film, music, books and comics for The Independent, Sight & Sound, Uncut and Little White Lies. He has published two books: The Dark Story of Eminem (2002), and You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks (2011), both from Omnibus Press.
Thursday 01 May 2014
If only more gigs could be like this: in a human-sized, modest yet luxurious popular palace such as Brockley’s hidden gem the Rivoli, London’s last surviving 1950s ballroom.
There’s none of the celebrity crush and panic of some deliberately under-sized appearance by a star, as 500 Albarn fans file in past the red velvet-lined walls and archaic brass fittings, Blur’s drummer Dave Rowntree unbothered amongst them.
This simply feels like a good place to play, especially for a man whose countless reinventions have finally arrived at a solo career, and the guise of an intimately confessional singer-songwriter.
His entirely unpredictable set-list tonight also reminds you how ubiquitous Albarn has been since Blur stopped wholly absorbing him. Ranging across The Good, The Bad & The Queen, Gorillaz, Blur, and other, utterly obscure songs he’s guested on, it’s as if Albarn has tipped his back-catalogue on the floor to prove there’s connection and worth to it all.
He’s brought a crack new band, The Heavy Seas. They make songs from his solo debut, Everyday Robots, far more vibrant and unapologetic than the spartan record. “The digital won’t let me go,” he sings on Gorillaz’ “Tomorrow Comes Today”, which links to the new songs’ pensiveness about the digitally totalitarian world filling in around us. Inevitably, some goon then demands a selfie. “Has it come to that stage?” he asks, exasperated at her inability to simply enjoy such a special night.
Damon Albarn also performed at Coachella 2013 The Good, The Bad & The Queen’s album is heavily mined, because it so clearly chimes with his new work. Their “History Song” is followed by one about his own history, “Hollow Ponds”. I’m the same age as Albarn, and know the titular corner of Leytonstone, bordering Epping Forest and studded with ponds and islands, deeply. So the personal freight feels especially profound, as Albarn lists crucial years of his life, beginning with 1976’s drought and ticking onto 1993’s first stirrings of Britpop and fame. Albarn gives it music hall melancholy at the piano, and references the 2-Tone of The Specials and Madness, too: his pop music as a boy.
“You And Me” is an autumnal wander through his west London life, heroin use and all, with electric guitar chimes dropping like leaves. “Photographs (You Are Taking Now)”’s English life and landscape then surges on the back of Albarn’s house music piano into a climax somewhere between a Bond theme and a club classic. “Kingdom of Doom”, crashing and chaotic, turns into a dubbed-up “London Calling”, and a gig which seemed likely to be intimately self-indulgent has become a genuine thrill.
The proggy, glam-Bowiesque belter which closes the main set turns out to be the barely known Blur B-side “All Your Life”. For the encore, rapper Kano injects further energy into Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood”, and a choir appear. Albarn finishes mostly solo at the piano, sometimes whispering Blur’s best song, “This Is A Low”. Tonight, though, has been a happy high.
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Britain First 'acting like Ukip henchmen' by invading meeting of activists in revenge for pub protest against Nigel Farage
- 2 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 3 Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival streaming service criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
- 4 Brixton squat flats now costing up to £3k per month show how out of control rent is in London
- 5 A new (old) cure for MRSA? Revolting recipe from the Dark Ages may be key to defeat infection
Zayn Malik releases first solo song 'I Won't Mind' in 'Zaughty' collaboration with Naughty Boy
Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
Poldark review: Demelza’s insouciance is almost as impressive as Ross’ pecs
Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival streaming service criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans