Damon Albarn, St Luke's, Glasgow *****
Almost without fanfare, like a spontaneous early Christmas gift, up pops Blur/Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn on a solo piano tour. Clearly this man cannot take a well-earned break but his industry is our pleasure, especially in such a special, intimate setting, accompanied by an exquisitely deployed string quartet.
At the second of two shows, Albarn looked very comfortable behind the grand piano in beanie, shades and gold chain, sighing in raptures at the strings but otherwise saying it all in song with the first half of his set dedicated to new solo album The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows.
Bodies of water have long been a theme in Albarn’s work, with his hangdog tone suited to songs of feeling marooned. Polaris is not the first of his compositions to be inspired by the Holy Loch, though the lyrical Daft Water may be his first soulful note on cross-dressing. Tower of Montevideo adopted a cheerier cabaret tone before Albarn slipped seamlessly back into the melancholic lyricism of Particles, setting up his judicious back catalogue selections in the hitsville second half of the set.
Beetlebum, still one of the most unlikely Number One hits, was dispatched in a spry arrangement for piano, with cello providing the pulse and the soaring vocal melody of the chorus taken up by the capacity crowd. A particularly keen audience member then chimed in tunefully but slightly out of time on Under the Westway to universal approval from the room.
Reaching further back in time, For Tomorrow was the song which set the template for the songwriting genius to follow. Almost 30 years later, in ongoing uncertain days, it seems we're all “holding on for tomorrow" as much as stomping with Albarn on an Elton-style acoustic oompah take on party anthem Girls & Boys.
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