Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Blur - Live Review

Blur. Live at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend - 21st June 2009.


I've had a long history with Blur, having liked them right from the 'baggie'\'Madchester' days. Rather scarily, E.F Rice and I first saw them live some 18 years ago in 1991 (ouch!). 1993's Modern Life is Rubbish was a defining moment for me, and was the album that gave a very early kick-start to what would become that whole indie-mod\Britpop scene. Blur will always be the band who sum up that era for me... so many came and went during those exiting times, but looking back now, how many had any real depth? One or two good songs, but so many are now largely forgettable. Oasis were seen as the 'big winners' back in the day, but it's quite laughable now. Look how diverse and interesting Blur have been over the years... and there's Oasis still plunking out the same sound!


I've seen Blur live a lot over the years, but none more so than when I followed the Parklife tour in 94, with the added bonus of blagging all the after-show parties too! which is why, dear reader, I'm oddly quite nervous about going to this gig. Reform shows can be a dicey business... If it's a band you never saw originally, then the risks are low. But a band you used to see at the time is a much bigger gamble. I have such wonderful, warm memories of those days... but if tonight's reunion show is disappointing, there's a real chance of it tainting all those happy days locked away in the memory bank.
The band walk on stage to the sound of The Debt Collector from Parklife, there is thunderous applause to greet our long lost heroes.. so much so that the band almost look embarrassed at just how long it continues. Eventually they are allowed to launch into their opening track, She's So High. The track is almost twenty years old, but it sounds as fresh as a daisy, and already I'm starting to relax! When you have a back-catalogue as strong as Blur's, you don't need to save the big-guns for the encore, so we're treated to an early appearance of Girls and Boys. It's the signal for the crowd to go ballistic... and they don't stop for the next two hours! Girls and Boys is our first glimpse of the Parklife, an album which dominates the evening more than any other... no less that 8 of tonight setlist are taken from the 94 masterpiece. I already know this is going to be a show to remember!
The setlist at any reunion show tends to be a bit of a no-brainer, a general run through of the hits is usually the order of the day, but I'm delighted to see some real 'non-single' gems pulled out of the bag too... Tracy Jacks, Jubilee and the glorious Badhead are all unleashed early on with more treats to follow. It honestly feels like I've been transported back to the mid-ninties! The band look great and sound incredible... the energy being generated on stage is frightening! Damon has the energy of a man half his age, Graham is proving once more that he is the finest guitarist of his generation, Alex keeps his hands on the coveted title of 'coolest bass player in the world' and Dave too shows perhaps how underrated he has been over the years... The setlist has been compiled very intelligently too, so rather than a hotch-potch 'lucky dip' feel, it has been carefully crafted to hone in on specific periods and\or tempos.
Beetlebum finally allows the heaving crown to catch their breath a little, and sets the scene for a few slower paced tunes, Out Of Time, Trimm Trabb, Coffee And TV and Tender... which evokes possibly the biggest applause of the night (and a nice sideline of impromptu singing from the crowd!). There is a massive reception too for Country House... not a particular favourite of mine, but it goes down a storm!
One thing is for sure tonight, this reunion is for real... sure there's good money to be made along the way, but theses guys want it bad. There is a hunger about them, passion, and a spark... the kind of spark usually reserved for new bands who are still genuinely excited by what they do, before the music industry makes them jaded... Blur are genuinely excited by what they do. There is a fire burning in Damon's eyes that tells me that there are certainly more chapters to come in the Blur history book.
The spotlight switched to Modern Life is Rubbish as we are treated to a trio of songs from that album.. Oily Water, Chemical World and Sunday Sunday. Before starting the latter, Damon tells us that he's not really into audience participation, but when he starts jogging on the spot, we're all to start pogo'ing!! The moment comes when the frantic Sunday Sunday guitar solo starts, I swear I can feel the floor moving! We move seamlessly back to the Parklife album, and the title track (no Phil Daniels this time!), followed by End Of A Century and To The End... During the midway instrumental, I notice Damon look up to the ceiling with both hands raised aloft. After a few moments he turns to look at Graham with a mock confused look... It's a nod to the Blur shows of old, where at this point a large 'mirrorball' used to take centre stage. Graham grins like a schoolboy as Damon continued to search for the elusive disco accessory! There is an emotional rendition of This Is A Low and the band bow out to an incredible reception.
On their return we are fortunate to get what is likely to be a one-off rendition of Essex Dogs. I guess it's been added especially for tonight's location, and Damon tells us it's unlikely to remain in the set after tonight. He then asks the audience if they have some more energy.... they are going to need it, because the tempo is about to go off the scale! Popscene, Advert and Song 2! Damon is leaping around like a man possessed, including a trip or two into the heart of the audience... the grin on his face says it all... he's missed this interaction with his people! After another farewell, they return for the final three numbers.. Battery In Your Leg, For Tomorrow and the simply beautiful The Universal, which again leads to an impressive audience singalong.
There is genuine emotion from the band at the end, particularly Damon.... He tells us we have no idea how much the reception means to them. It's like they somehow had something to prove, and boy did they prove it.
Two hours ago I was worried the gig might not live up to my memories.... now I stand spellbound, having witnessed the best I've ever seen them... it really was that good. From Mod-life through Park-life and now into Mid-life... the years have been kind to the Blur back-catalogue, every song sounding as fresh and contemporary as it ever did. These songs may have shaped a generation, but now they are the anthems of a broad section of the population.... teens, twenties, thirties and forties were all bouncing together tonight in unison.
It's weird to think that having played to 1500 tonight, they will play for 100,000 in just a few days time as headliners at Glastonbury. Then it's onwards and upwards to their own Hyde Park shows. This is indeed the summer of Blur!

Finally, I'd just like to say a big 'thank you' to good friend Debbie, who secured the tickets for us... and without whom, we'd have missed out on this incredible night. Cheers Debs, we owe you a lunch!

SETLIST

She's So High
Girls And Boys
Tracy Jacks
There's No Other Way
Jubilee
Badhead
Beetlebum
Out Of Time
Trimm Trabb
Coffee And TV
Tender
Country House
Oily Water
Chemical World
Sunday Sunday
Parklife
End Of A Century
To The End
This Is A Low
----------
Essex Dogs
Popscene
Advert
Song 2
----------
Battery In Your Leg
For Tomorrow
The Universal

A very shaky POPSCENE! But it sums up the evening well - just check out the on-stage energy in this 3 minutes of mayhem!


Piley

20 comments:

Tracy Jacks said...

a really great review of a really great night, thank you! Couldn't agree more, this was the best yet. Roll on Hyde Park!

Tracy J

PS - LOVE the photos!

Anonymous said...

sounds like a amazing show. thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Ishouldbeworking said...

What great reading. Love it. I know what you mean about the risk of seeing your most-loved band again after many years. It's like hooking up with an ex, being torn between affectionate curiosity and that feeling that some things should just be left in the past where they belong. I had similar fears about going back to see Pixies some years ago. Luckily, they still delivered by the shedload, as, by the sounds of it, do Blur. I'm glad to read that it wasn't just a cynical cash-in. They were always too classy for that.

Planet Mondo said...

Sounds a magic, magic night P, you've really captured the action and excitment..

And Mod-life to Mid-life. Love it..

Still love that Pet Shop Boys remix of Boys and Girls (may have to blog it in time for Glasto)

thisnighthasopenedmyeyes said...

Brilliant review Piley and amazing pics. I couldn't have summed up the evening better myself. One of those few occassions where 'I was blown away' goes nowhere near summing up just how amazing the night was. Totally, totally the best. Bring on Hyde Park July
3rd.......ready for pogo session mark 2.

Anonymous said...

Don't knock Oasis boy, nothing wrong with strait up Rock N Roll. I've sent your comments to Liam Gallagher be afraid be very afraid :-).

Carl.

Piley said...

TJ/Anon - thanks for stopping by, it was a very special night!

ISBW - Ta muchly! I tucked in to the Pixies reunion too, that was one of the best reform gigs I ever saw. Blur were on the money Sunday, and was nowhere near a 'going through the motions\cash cow' gig.

PM - yeah the PSB mix does have a good feel to it, and suits the style of that song. One for the podcast perhaps??!

TNHOME - Glad you enjoyed it! Hyde Park will be a very different gig, but I have no doubt it will be a great one. Enjoy! Looking forward to the review of THAT one on YOUR blog ;-)

Carl - I don't mind em, It's just after 15 odd years, I'm ready for another toon now!

P

Istvanski said...

Blinding! That sounded like a marvellous do. I'm looking forward to the Glasto highlights on the telly. I'll have to check wether Hyde Park has sold out.
Great pics, Coxon's got a nice goldtop in his mits.

Anonymous said...

Another band that I always thought I should check out in more detail but never did. Whatever their reasons for reforming they seem to have made a lot of people happy. Good luck to 'em.

John Devlin said...

Nice one Piley - really wish I could have been there. My experience of Blur is much the same as yours I think. I first saw them at Reading Festival in 91. Funny thing is I watched the TV highlights of their set at Glastonbury last night and noticed that Graham was wearing the same T-shirt as he wore when they played Ally Pally in 94!

Anonymous said...

I could have got in free at the Cliffs but i had the day from hell the day before (up at 5.30 hit the sack at 3.45 the following morning)and i did not go as i was fucked. After watching the Glasto highlights i wish i had they where really good. I love Coxon they are nowt with out him. Never been a committed fan though , more casual like , Quo rocked Glasto too.

Carl.

Cocktails said...

I've been a long time fan of Blur but I've never had the opportunity/nerve to see them live. Still, I was suspicious about their 'reunion' (always am about these things) so it was a relief to read your review.

I just dragged out my copy of Modern Life is Rubbish again recently and boy, is is good. Nice to see a few cuts from that made it into the setlist.

E F RICE said...

Great review Piley, you must remind me where we saw them ? I have got a vague memory but have a big problem remembering the venue etc.

At the time I was in the OASIS camp and often offered fights with you on the subject ! But as my musical pallette has matured I have collected a fair bit of Blur and am particularly fond of their later stuff and the somewhat underated baggy debut album.

I really like the stuff both Albarn and Coxon have gone onto make and even read the Alex James autobiography, which is a very good read if you get the chance.

Carl's point on OASIS is fair but Blur have made some absolute ball buster tracks along with some of the biggest w*nk I have ever heard (Country House !), which makes it far more interesting in my opinion !

Furtheron said...

Great review - I didn't do the Brit Pop scene really... too old, too into rock and other stuff... too drunk most of the time.

However how many times in the recent years have I looked at my son on hearing a "great innovative new band" on Jools or whereever and said... "Another bloody Blur soundalike". However that is testament to the influence they have had/still have. I agree with you for me these were much more inventive and influential and pushed the boundaries far far further and Oasis could ever imagine.

Piley said...

Istvanski - t'was indeed! Did you catch the Glastonbury footage?, that was pretty special too... but it just made be feel even luckier that I was able to attend this intimate warm up

Anon - there's a nice little double cd set that has conveniently just come out! could be worth a go to get you started. However you cant go wrong with Modern Life is Rubbish and Parklife as an intro to their work.

Hi John - I did Reading 91 and Ally Pally too! Blagged the ol backstage party at AP and nicked Grahams setlist!! Still got it somewhere! Good spot on the t-shirt..

Carl - shame you missed the Southend show... sometimes these things cant be helped eh? Glasto footage looked amazing didn't it? Completely nailed it, and tighter than ever.

Cocktails - I can confirm it's 'safe' to see them this side of the reform!!! Not sure Hyde Park is the best place to do so though. I wonder what the future is? If they stay together, what size venues will they be playing in a year or twos time? MLIR is still a masterpiece isn't it? and unfortunately overshadowed by the mighty Parklife. Love the vibe from that album tho.

EF - I don't know, you get to 40 and you start losing your marbles eh??! Like John above, we see them at Reading 91! This was the year captured by the phrase 'wake me up tomorrow' (I think there were a few others too, but that one will do!).

Further - Know what you mean about early Oasis... the swagger and the arrogance was exciting, compared to the middle-class art boys. But it's a marathon, not a sprint, and Blur have been much more interesting and diverse (as have all of Damon's other projects).

Piley

PrimroseK said...

Nice one - good write-up! I've often wondered how worthwhile gig reviews are with the advent of YouTube footage, etc. (plus being there myself) but bringing your own personal Blur narrative to it made it a good read! Actually, your gig observations are much better than a lot of 'established' music journos! (I must have been standing really quite near to you - like the pics!)

Anonymous said...

Bollocks.

Liam Gallagher.

Istvanski said...

I thought Blur were one of the best things at Glastonbury.

Piley said...

Primrose - thanks for the kind words, glad you liked the review.

Liam - have you learnt another new word??! ;-)

Istvanski - couldnt agree more, they were the highlight by a long shot.

P

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