Damon Albarn last night (November 15) welcomed a host of guests onstage at the first of his two shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Albarn instantly brought energy to the seated gig by demanding the crowd get up as soon as he arrived on stage. Soon, he was high fiving those who had rushed to the front, and by the second song, ‘Lonely Press Play’, he was dousing them in water. Albarn seemed to revel in performing in the famous circular auditorium, waving at those seated behind him and later apologising for having his back to them all night.
Swapping between vocals, guitar and keyboard, Albarn took to the organ for the first time for ‘Everyday Robots’, the title track of his 2014 solo album, which – despite its lyrical subject (“We are everyday robots on our phones…) – saw many of the crowd filming and taking pictures. Gorillaz track ‘Tomorrow Comes Today’ followed.
“This is terrifying coming here,” Albarn told the crowd between ‘Slow Country’ and ‘Kids With Guns’, “But we’ve decided it’s just a really big pub.”
A couple of tracks from 2002’s ‘Mali Music’ album saw the spotlight on Malian musicians Afel Bocoum and Toumani Diabaté, with Albarn telling the crowd, “We’re going to sort of travel a bit.” Kora player Diabaté used the platform to bring attention to the ongoing Ebola outbreak affecting Mali and other African countries.
“It’s so wonderful to see Afro [music] in the Albert Hall, really. For me it’s amazing,” said Albarn after ‘Bamako City’ and ‘Sunset Coming On’.
Towards the end of the main set, Albarn once again enthused about the iconic venue, describing it as a “ridiculously incredible, spiritual place.” He then asked for a cheer for Royal Albert Hall for “giving people so much amazing music over the years.” A version of Blur single ‘Out Of Time’ and B-side ‘All Your Life’ concluded the set.
As revealed earlier this month, Albarn returned for the encore with his Blur bandmate Graham Coxon, who was wearing a Triumph motorcycles T-shirt but not his famous glasses. Blur favourite ‘End Of A Century’ saw the pair accompanied by a trumpet player, with Coxon on acoustic guitar and Albarn on organ. Before the next track, ‘The Man Who Left Himself’, Albarn told the crowd: “We’re going to do a song we’ve never ever played live. I don’t even remember what it was the B-side for.” On being informed by Coxon that it was “probably something from the mid to late ‘90s,” Albarn retorted “Oh, our difficult period…” The track saw the pair joined by Albarn’s Heavy Seas band, and saw Coxon on the electric guitar.
After promising the crowd “it’s just singalongs from now on,” Blur’s ‘Tender’ saw the band joined by the Leytonstone City Mission Choir, concluding Coxon’s appearance and the first encore.
A second and final encore saw the ensemble of choir and band perform a lively ‘Mr Tembo’ before De La Soul were introduced to perform Gorillaz track ‘Feel Good Inc’. The three-piece group’s Vincent ‘Maseo’ Mason asked for silence in the hall before breaking into the wicked laugh that begins the track. After, he thanked “my brother and my friend Damon Albarn.”
London rapper Kano then joined the group for another Gorillaz song, ‘Clint Eastwood’.
The 130-minute set concluded with ‘Heavy Seas Of Love’, which saw the show’s ensemble cast (minus Coxon) return to the stage with Brian Eno, who sang the verses.
“The next person has been a huuuuuuuuuge influence for me,” said Albarn, introducing Eno, “And he’s not usually seen in public places like this.”
Albarn returns to Royal Albert Hall tonight (November 16). View a selection of fan-shot videos from the show below.