Latitude 2014

Damon Albarn closes day two of Latitude 2014

It just needs one song to win the day, and Damon’s got the best of them all.

There’s a lot to be said for the power of a single song. An artist can be peerless, capable of true brilliance, but if that talent isn’t deployed in a way that connects with their audience it will matter little. What they need are those rare occasions where everyone, from the casual observer to the hardcore obsessive, finds themselves on the same page. All together, having a moment.

Damon Albarn has made a career out of finding just those sweet spots. Few, if any, others can match him for them over the last twenty five years - as a writer, he could pick out a whole set full of songs that level the field. And yet tonight, headlining a major UK festival as a solo artist for the first time, he leaves most of them in the bag. At least for a while.

For the first hour and twenty minutes of his set, there’s barely a flicker of recognition that this is the frontman of Blur. Songs are picked from all his other guises, from his recent solo album to The Good, The Bad and The Queen, Rocket Juice & The Moon and even Gorillaz; but not the one group which - being honest - is why most onlookers have turned up. As brilliant a performer as Albarn undoubtedly is, it’s starting to show.

Yes, ‘The Kingdom of Doom’ remains under appreciated brilliance, and ‘Kids With Guns’ does have the impish petulance he wields so well, but it’s not until two songs from the end of the set proper that he finally gives way. A solo, piano led run through ‘Out Of Time’ feels like the pressure being let off, the electricity in the audience mirrored by flashes of lightning in the sky. People know this one. They like it. They can sing back. This is why they love Damon Albarn.

In comparison, ‘All Your Life’ may be a gem in the Blur back catalogue, but it’s also a b-side. Closing a main stage performance with something that wilfully obscure would be a ballsy move, but it’s also one Albarn clearly understands. The encore is all about the big release. Few have been quite this huge.

Returning to the stage for another (almost) lone sing-a-long for ‘End of a Century’, it’s fair to say for most artists this would be the pay off - giving the crowd what they came for. But then we’re back to that idea of the single song.

Because, while Damon Albarn’s cupboard of musical gems is stocked with many sparkling delights, over recent years one has become shinier than the rest. Since reforming Blur and hitting the stage again, ‘Tender’ has become an almost mythical beast. At Glastonbury it became the thing of legend - the one song to rule them all. A moment of euphoria - a gospel shakedown that pierced the soul. Tonight, it takes an even greater role. Everything before it, everything that follows, is centred on this moment. He knows it, we know it - even the heavens know it.

As bandmate and wingman Graham Coxon takes the stage, thunder claps and the sky starts to fall. Nobody is running for cover, though. People scream. People cheer. People sing at the top of their lungs. Though Gorillaz’ signature move ‘Clint Eastwood’ and the two most immediate cuts from Albarn’s solo record follow, it’s this moment the crowd will be taking back to their tents. The time that arguably a generation’s greatest talent showed once and for all - it just needs one song to win the day, and he’s got the best of them all.

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