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!
She's So High
Girls And Boys
There's No Other Way
Out Of Time
Coffee And TV
End Of A Century
To The End
This Is A Low
Battery In Your Leg
A very shaky POPSCENE! But it sums up the evening well - just check out the on-stage energy in this 3 minutes of mayhem!