ALL change. It’s only been a matter of days Damon Albarn, told us, since he was playing to a crowd of 55,000 as front man of Gorillaz. Tuesday teatime, though, and he’s in front of a rather smaller seated audience at Edinburgh Park, the first of two shows at Edinburgh International Festival. “It’s schizophrenic,” the 53-year-old admitted.
But clearly not debilitating. Once the early sound mix problems are sorted out, this is a rousingly good show that gets better and better as it goes on.
Whether cadging a cigarette, tripping over a monitor or telling us he’s just been given Icelandic citizenship, Albarn gave the appearance of someone enjoying himself enormously, even if he and the band hadn’t had a drink yet.
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As the writing on the stage backdrop reminded us (much to Albarn’s disgust), these shows were in part promoting his upcoming album The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows, which is a quieter thing than much of Albarn’s back catalogue. But these live takes amped up the energy. On the record a track like Royal Morning Blue is slow and stately. Here it had a real chirpiness to it, a reminder that Albarn has always had a pop heart.
The second half of the set, in particular, showed Albarn’s band off to great effect. Complemented by a string quartet, their sound was muscular and punchy – at times they even offered a rude boy hooligan energy – but also capable of great delicacy. Their take on new song Tower of Montevideo had a gorgeous half-drunk wooziness to it, whilst Out of Time (Blur’s best song?) seemed to roll along in a constant state of unfolding and expanding.
The new songs rubbed happily alongside the choices from Albarn’s extensive and varied back catalogue. And the closing segue from Particles (the final track on the new album) to a take on a Blur favourite, This is a Low, spoke to the continuities in Albarn’s music through all its guises. Both tapped into that strand of English tea-stained melancholy that runs through the best of his work.
All change then, yet still utterly, thrillingly consistent.