I have seen Damon Albarn on numerous occasions, three or four times with Blur, twice with the Good, The Bad and The Queen, and once with Gorillaz. But until now I had never seen him perform solo. I saw his streamed solo set at the Live From Worthy Farm a few months back and that, plus the release of his new solo album, was perhaps a precursor to what the shows on this short tour might be like. Firstly though I must mention this iconic venue, which was completed in 1472 and remains the largest cathedral of its kind in Northern Europe. I have missed out on a couple of contemporary shows here previously; Benjamin Francis Leftwich and the Howl and the Hum. Although the live stream of the latter was stunning.
After a 30 minute wait outside in a freezing York, we were finally ushered in for the 6:30 show, a second was planned for 8:30. The Minster setting was spectacular, particularly after the main lights were dimmed and it was then mostly candlelight. The stage was simple with a piano and seats for a string quartet. Yes, this was never going to be some kind of full-on band show. A rather unassuming Damon (my wife Catherine a.k.a Catwoman said scruffy) took to the stage to the sound of the string quartet playing Darke’s “In The Bleak Midwinter”. The first song was “The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows”, the title track of the new album. Six more tracks from the new album followed of which for me the highlights were “The Tower of Montevideo” and “Particles”, both stunning in their simplistic beauty.
But it was the last few songs that really set the evening on fire. First, it was “Beetlebum”, a UK number one for Blur back in 1997. The original was a warped, psyched out, Beatlesy kind of tune whose lyrics dealt with Damon’s experience with heroin. But this string and piano-driven version was ethereal and otherworldly, such a phenomenal take on a great song. This was followed by “Lonely Press Play” from Albarn’s first solo album ‘Everyday Robots’ from 2014. The sadly very short set was brought to an emotional close with a gorgeous take on Blur’s “The Universal” to which we all sang along quietly. I was kind of jealous of the fans at the later show who bagged two more songs than us, “My Terracotta Heart” and “Under the Westway”, both Blur deep cuts. But putting that aside this was a truly incredible show and a never-to-be-forgotten experience!
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