Friday, June 6, 2014

PREVIEW: Damon Albarn at the Royale in Boston, June 9, 2014


This coming Monday, I'll be seeing a musical hero of mine, Damon Albarn, at the Royale in Boston. As a fan of Blur for nearly the past twenty years, I've enjoyed Damon's music and songwriting immensely...I wouldn't have written two books about Blur if I didn't! I'm also a big fan of his Gorillaz side project. I've been lucky enough to see both Blur (2003) and Gorillaz (2010) live, and I'm now really excited to see Damon bring his new band in support of his solo album, Everyday Robots, to Boston. If you haven't checked out the album, I recommend it...while it's not a masterpiece, it's quite good and apart from Richard Russell's production, musically it's top-notch and showcases a more melancholy side to Damon's writing.


If you'd like to read my reviews of the previous times I saw Damon, I've posted them below. My review of Damon's show on Monday will follow shortly after the concert!

My review of Blur live at the Avalon, Boston, MA July 18, 2003 (originally posted on my Blur blog):

"It was nine years ago today that I saw Blur live in Boston (July 18, 2003).  I wrote up my memories of that incredible concert for 6 Music to (possibly) include in their Blur special.  Below is what I wrote about that night, if you'd like to read it:
I was a junior at university in 1999 when I heard they would be playing a show in New York City showcasing their "13" album at the end of March. I lived north of Boston at the time (~4 hour drive to New York) and was all set to go, had tickets, etc but decided at the last minute to not go due to some tough exams I had coming up. I remember thinking "I'll see them later this year when they come back to the US" which of course they never did. Fast forward to 2003 and they played a show in Boston (actually, 9 years ago to this day...July 18, 2003, and I've got a copy of that show on CD, too). I had ordered tickets well in advance and began to panic as they hadn't shown up until 3 days before the show. It was a very hot and humid July evening (much like tonight!) and they played the now defunct Avalon NightClub on Landsdowne St in Boston. After taking the subway into the city, my brother and I walked the rest of the way to the club, got there early, and made our way right to the front of the stage to stand and wait.  The club ended up filling up to capacity, which was nice...I knew Blur had a huge cult following here in the US so it was nice to see so many fans and talk with them. After the opening band (who I don't remember their name), Blur came on and played a stunning show, nearly 2 hours. Standing at the front of the stage, the view was of course great, we got to shake Damon's hands a few times as he came by and the few times he jumped into the crowd, we held him up and carried him back to the stage.  When they came back on for the encore, they were hanging around on the stage before they started and we got to chat with Alex for a minute before they began playing (he was having a cup of tea, complete with saucer, with his bass slung over his shoulder, waiting for the encores to start!). The coolest thing about the show was it was the first time on the 2003 tour they played The Universal. I also remember Damon wearing a sportcoat over his Fred Perry to start the show, but he soaked through it so quickly that he took it off after only a few songs!  After the show, when milling around to leave, I ended up speaking to a fellow from the UK who was there with his wife and he'd actually been a light tech on their 1995 UK tour so had seen them loads and said this was one of the best shows he'd ever seen them do.  By the end we were all very hot and soaked with sweat and walking out into the muggy summer night didn't help, but it was honestly the best concert I've ever been to to this day and I still remember it fondly. I can even hear myself cheering and yelling loudly on the recording I have of it (I was very close to the taper, maybe ~15 ft away from him)."


My review of Gorillaz at Agganis Arena, Boston, MA October 6, 2010 (originally posted on the AudioPerv website):

" “Blur are better.”

Anyone who knows me well would expect me to conclude this review with those three words…I’ve been a massive fan of Damon Albarn’s “other band” for 15 years and always considered Gorillaz to be his solo side project and nothing more. But after seeing Gorillaz rock out the Agganis Arena in Boston last night touring in support of their third album Plastic Beach, I’ll have to reevaluate that sentiment later on in this review. For those not in the know, Albarn, the genius behind Gorillaz, is a multi-talented songwriter, vocalist, keyboard/guitar player who originally rose to fame in the 1990s as the frontman for legendary British rock band Blur…since 2000, he’s been the musical soul behind the three mega-selling Gorillaz albums, partnering with Jamie Hewlett, who is the brains behind the visual presentation. 





The concert began with openers N.E.R.D., who this reviewer was not familiar with at all, although the crowd of mostly college kids seemed to know every word. Songs I did pick out were Party People, Rock Star, and Lapdance. They also announced they were playing some new songs from their upcoming album, to be released “sometime in November.” Their mix of hip-hop and R&B singing was fairly interesting although as someone who isn’t a fan of those genres, I spent most of the set waiting for it to be over. However, they performed well…I did enjoy their vocal harmonies, as well as the incredible drumming by their two drummers.
Finally, around 9pm, Gorillaz took the stage in front of a massive video screen and large multicolored-lit letters spelling out their name. Decked out in pirate and sailor gear (hats, striped shirts, naval jackets, eyepatches) they fit right in with the theme of the upcoming show. Albarn himself, not needing any costume due to his incredible charisma and stage presence, dressed simply in a red and black striped top, black jeans, and sneakers. The set began with an extended instrumental intro before a video of Snoop Dogg synced to the rest of the band welcomed everyone to the “World of the Plastic Beach.” For the next 100 minutes, Gorillaz weaved their way through about as perfect a set list as you could ask for, playing songs from all three of their albums, including the “hits” like Clint Eastwood, DARE, Feel Good, Inc., Stylo, and 19-2000. Highlights for me included Last Living Souls, O Green World, Kids with Guns (which contained an awesome extended jam at the end), and long and excellent versions of Empire Ants and Glitter Freeze. The ending encores of Don’t Get Lost in Heaven, which segued into Demon Days, was suitably epic and sent the crowd home on a blissful high.
The Gorillaz band itself was excellent, highlighted by Damon Albarn’s incredible vocals and keyboards. Paul Simonon (bass) and Mick Jones (guitar), both of The Clash, were fantastic, and they were augmented by another keyboard player, two phenomenal drummers, backing singers, a string septet, and for some songs, a Middle Eastern quintet. While various animations and videos played behind them, this band wove intricate soundscapes and rocked out as tight and as hard as any band that’s out there. Joining them at various points in the set were Bobby Womack (Stylo, Cloud of Unknowing), Snoop Dogg (via video on Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach), De La Soul (Superfast Jellyfish and Feel Good, Inc.), Little Dragon (Empire Ants, To Binge), Bashy and Kano (White Flag, Clint Eastwood), and Shaun Ryder (via video on DARE). After Phases I and II, during which the live performances of the first two albums (Gorillaz and Demon Days) involved the band playing behind screens or in shadows while the animations took center stage, the live show is now centered on the band itself, out there for all to see.
And what can be said about Albarn himself? One of the most talented musicians of the last 20 years, he was as dynamic a frontman last night as he was in his Blur days, jumping and dancing around the stage while delivering vocals that ranged from soft and heartfelt to strident and powerful, and everything in between. Although he did mention Boston was one of the first places he ever came to in the USA (back in 1991), he wasn’t very talkative, certainly not as much as he is when playing with Blur (and as someone who has seen Blur and listened to over 200 of their live recordings, it was very obvious to me). The man was all business on tonight, although you could tell he was genuinely happy to be there doing what he was doing onstage.
One thing I noticed was that the crowd for the Gorillaz was much more age diverse than that for N.E.R.D., with 50 and 60 year olds dancing alongside teenagers and college kids (and even some young children). Mostly, however, it was a mix of every age in between. The crowd as a whole was a bit static and lame, especially close to the stage, which was rather surprising. No such problems a bit further away, where I was sitting…everyone was dancing and singing along with enthusiasm.
On a cold and rainy night that was anything but enjoyable outside, Gorillaz delivered one of the best concerts in recent memory for this reviewer. To return to the statement that opened this review, are Blur better? Yes and no. Blur will always be Albarn’s “main” band (at least to me), the one he’s best known for and the one that will always be my favorite. But in my mind, Gorillaz is no longer just his side project. They’re a legitimate band in their own right who are just as good and just as exciting. Gorillaz is as good as Blur.
Go see Gorillaz live if you can…you won’t be sorry"

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