HALF THE BAND THEY USED TO BE!

Half the band are missing as they play a 'secret' show in Texas...

AUSTIN’s LA ZONA ROSA nightclub bared witness to perhaps the most bizarre gig in BLUR’s history last night (March 13), the group playing their first ever live show without guitarist GRAHAM COXON AND bassist ALEX JAMES.

The group were scheduled to travel out to Texas for a ‘secret’ show at the annual music industry conference. All week, the show has been seen as the “buzz gig” amongst delegates, with the band’s identity kept a closely guarded secret.

As a way of announcing who the surprise headliners were, some fans were given a free CD, which, when played simply said the band’s name.

At the gig, an apologetic Damon Albarn revealed that James was refused a US Visa prior to the band setting off from the UK.

Albarn then proceeded to phone James and ask the 1,500 in attendance to “Say hi to Alex”.

James’ last minute replacement was Rival Schools bassist Chris Traynor, who was onstage with Blur only 24 hours after they’d first rehearsed with him.

Blur‘s manager, Niamh Byrne of CMO Management International Ltd told NME.COM: “Alex’s visa – for some reason – is taking longer to process than the others. We’re sure it will be sorted out soon, but the paperwork does take a bit of time, however the band have decided to go ahead with travel plans this week to avoid disappointing the US fans.”

The drafting in of Traynor was one of many personnel changes in a radical reshaping of Blur. Only Damon and drummer Dave Rowntree remained from the band’s original line-up as they were joined onstage by a keyboardist, an additional percussionist and three backing singers.

As previously reported on NME.COM, ex-Verve guitarist Simon Tong assumed lead guitar duties from the sacked Graham Coxon. No mention was made of Coxon’s departure.

The band’s 14-song set (see below), featured nine new tracks and received a mixed reaction, according to NME.COM’s reporter. The impact of Albarn’s Gorillaz and‘Mali Music’ projects on the band were very much in evidence as the band embarked on a more dance-orientated and world music direction. The most well received new tracks were the ‘Song 2’-esque ‘We’ve Got A File On You’ and the only obvious pop-song among the new material, ‘Crazy Beat’.

Blur played: ‘Ambulance’

‘Moroccan People’s Revolutionary Bowls Club’

‘Girls & Boys’

‘Out Of Time’

‘Beetlebum’

‘Gene By Gene’

‘Caravan’

‘Poor Excuses’

‘Good Song’

‘Song 2’

‘We’ve Got A File On You’

‘Popscene’

‘Crazy Beat’

‘This Is A Low’

The group’s next scheduled show is at the New York Bowery Ballroom on Sunday (March 16).

In a diary entry on www.blur.co.uk, James explained the problem.

He wrote: “It’s a good time of year to be in England. Unless you’re supposed to be in Texas. Having spent the last month rehearsing when I could have been learning how to do the splits properly, the American administration – swamped as it is with subversives applying for visas – has taken longer than expedted to process my application for a work permit.

“Upshot is can’t join the band in Austin without risking being thrown on a chain gang. The record exploded across American radio stations in unprecedented fashoin. But I can’t have a work permit. Yet.

“So, we’ve decided to get a new bass player for these American dates. I have become a svengali of basslines rather than an actual operator of a bass guitar. It means I have a kind of Gentleman’s Gentleman to take care of those duties.

“There is an outside chance I may be able to play the New York date from my kitchen. I’m talking to my scientists. Could be good.”