Given the amount of time Damon Albarn has been performing with various different groups and artists, it probably comes as a surprise that it's taken him over 20 years to release a solo album. However having done so the opportunity to see the Blur frontman performing a solo show was one that was too good to pass up, especially as we managed to bag one of only a few hundred tickets for a warm-up gig at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth before he heads off on a tour of the USA and Europe.
For those of you who've never been there, The Wedgewood Rooms is one of Portsmouth's best kept secrets. Little sister to the two main venues in the city (The Guildhall and The Pyramids Centre), it is usually the location of choice for the up-and-coming acts in the area. However due to a reputation amongst musicians as a great place to perform, it often plays host to artists that normally play much larger venues round the country.
After what had to be the most convoluted entry to a show I've ever experienced (everyone, in addition to their tickets, had to provide the card that was used to buy the ticket and photographic ID, resulting in it taking almost an hour to get everyone in), there was just time to get a drink before Damon took to the stage about 9pm. Supported by a group he introduced as being 'The Heavy Seas' he started with the tracks 'Lonely Press Play' and 'Everyday Robots' , Damon seemed almost nervous at first - as if he was unsure whether the crowd would take to the new songs. He needn't have been so worried, as despite the general low-key nature of the new material the crowd were soon singing along and responding enthusiastically.
After the fifth track Damon turned his attention to some of his other bands music, starting with Gorillaz 'Kids With Guns' - and it was here that things really got interesting, gone was the quiet recalcitrant singer, and to the front came the Damon that most people will know from the Blur years - the energetic frontman playing directly to the crowd. The crowd in return responded with gusto, creating a feedback loop that saw them working off each other, Damon by this stage sweating profusely in his suit.
I don't know whether it was because of the quieter new material, but when he was performing older songs they seemed to be ramped up a notch, particularly noticeable was 'Kingdom Of Doom' which was reimagined as a full on punk assault with a drum signature not dissimilar from The Clash's 'London Calling'. Other songs from the Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad and The Queen era were similarly bombastic. Those hoping for a trip through the Blur back catalogue would have been disappointed, as he only played two songs - 'Out Of Time' and the show closer, a stripped back, piano only version of 'This Is A Low'.
Biggest reaction of the evening however came when he performed Gorillaz debut track 'Clint Eastwood', which had the crowd lurching and jumping round the room oblivious to the heat and confined space, while Damon looked on approvingly. Two hours later and the show came to an end, and while you got the impression that Damon might have carried on for another hour - and the crowd would have been happy to see him do so, it was nonetheless enough to show why Damon is one of the top musicians we have produced - equally at home performing small intimate music as he is big punk anthems. Apart from a show at the Latitude festival he hasn't announced any UK dates yet, but if he does I recommend you do your best to get a ticket, and guarantee you won't be disappointed.