Blur played their first Hyde Park gig last night (July 2), as 55,000 fans packed into the huge London park on a stunning, sun-baked evening.
Since imploding in 2003, there's been a Blur-shaped hole in British music that no amount of Gorillaz, Graham Coxon solo albums or Alex James' homemade cheese could fill. As Oasis plodded on through two more album releases (2005's 'Don't Believe The Truth' and last year's 'Dig Out Your Soul'), Blur embarked on a variety of disparate solo projects and much-needed soul searching - all of which seems to have made them stronger than ever.
Graham Coxon has stated that he believes Blur are now playing better than ever before, and anyone who was at the tiny Colchester return show, Glastonbury or Goldsmiths over the past two weeks would be hard pressed to disagree.
This is a band who are now utterly at ease with themselves and flourishing live. Take That might be dressing as clowns to puncture the embarrassment of playing their earliest boyband hits live, but beyond playing some classic tracks from their debut 'Leisure' at a sped-up BPM that injects them with pace and a refreshed vigour, Blur are staying true to the songs that have defined their long and varied career.
And what songs they are. Last night as the red sun dropped behind the trees and a grinning Damon beckoned the crowd to greet the moon ("I want you all to shout "Hello, moon!"") we heard 'The Universal', 'To The End', 'Girls & Boys', 'This Is A Low', 'Parklife' (with a hilariously raucous Phil Daniels - video above), 'Popscene', 'Song 2' and more. At least, we heard what we could. So loud was the heartfelt crowd singalong that at times the 55,000 voices almost drowned out the 4 men on stage. (Full setlist here.)
Not that it mattered. We'd had the energetic homecoming in Colchester and the sweat-dripping ceiling of the intimate Goldsmiths gig. We'd had the magic of watching with tired eyes and muddy clothes on Sunday at Glastonbury. This was a return to the capital where it all exploded, on a scale that befits the glory of those seven studio albums and two whole decades that have been and gone since Blur formed in 1989.
It's quite likely that we'll see an eighth album next year, once the next Gorillaz release is out of the way in February. It's almost certain to be an assured and masterful piece of work, lifted by the six-year break and the strengthened bonds between Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave.
No one could ever accuse them of doing the past two weeks shows for the money. This is the real thing and a privilege to behold.
If you were at any of the recent shows, or if you're going tonight (Friday July 3) post your comments below and let me know what you think.
Plus, what do you think the next album, assuming it happens will be like? A continuation from where 2003's 'Think Tank' left off? Or a radical new sound inspired by Damon's excursions into Afrobeat and Alex's new found passion for dairy farming and orchestra conducting?
If you are going tonight - I'm very jealous.
Photo Gallery: Blur live in Hyde park, July 2