SIMON WILLIAMS samples the no smoking, no drinking, no partying atmosphere at Blur's Dublin show

Blur

Dublin The Point

No stagediving! No moshing! No smoking! No drinking! The signs hanging all around this vast Irish depot are plain and simple: they say that The Point does indeed have a point to make. And that is? That going to a gig here should be about as rocktastic as partaking of an afternoon salad with your Auntie Flopsy.

Unbelievably, there’s more. Along with the eradication of the traditional pop vices such as tabs and booze, The Point seeks to prevent The Kids from indulging in that most heinous of crimes – sitting atop their mate’s shoulders. And how do they ensure this? By employing a crack squad of security guards who spend the entirety of the show staring out across the crowd. When they spot some evil 14-year-old’s head and shoulders suddenly appear out of the throng in a determined bid to, like, briefly witness just how large Damon Albarn’s trousers really are, the three-strong team dash through the hordes to bring the miscreant – quite literally – back down to earth. Like we say, unbelievable.

And the crucial thing is? That Dublin’s law-makers are missing the point. Because The Kids would find it darned hard to experience anything more subversive than simply witnessing a Blur gig. Of course, this is one hell of a strange screechy world at the moment. For a start, one of tomorrow’s Tory tabloid rags will plaster Zoe Ball all over their tasteless little pages as she spills the mung beans about ‘Her Love’ for Louis, singer in tonight’s support band the Warm Jets. For a finish, the corporate underground is riddled with morbid mutterings as a string of fairly strong indie-pop contenders circa 1995 now struggle to grapple their guitars into the haughty 40. Because it is now ‘officially’ the death of the indie party. Wooo-whoooo??? And in the middle you will find the likes of Blur, Radiohead and The Charlatans – not quite dazzled by the public spotlight, yet firmly ensconced in the arena circuit.

And happily so, if Blur’s behaviour on a drizzlingly bleak Friday in the Republic is anything to go by. This is their first vaguely homeland show since January’s ‘intimate’ mini-tour, as they’ve dragged the ‘Blur’ album up to unprecedented sales levels around the globe. And now it’s time to see precisely how the Blur-ites, previously seduced by the comedy capers of ‘Country House’ or ‘Girls And Boys’, have managed to get their barmy brains around ‘Blur’. Set openers ‘Beetlebum’ and ‘MOR’ do more than suggest that the process has been exceedingly comfortable. But it’s at the very end, when Blur blast themselves backstage with the rampant double whammy of ‘Killer For Your Love’ and ‘Song 2’, that you realise just how craftily they have toyed with their audience’s preconceptions.

That’s not to imply that Blur’s music is in any way deranged or dangerous. Oh, hang on – it is. In fact the first chunk of the show actually struggles under the weight of the foursome’s imaginations and fearsome diversity as Blur career between ‘Leisure’-era oldies (see ‘There’s No Other Way’, ‘She’s So High’, the pivotal ‘Popscene’) and the bursts of ‘Blur’-style post-Americana hyperactivity via selected highlights from the three albums in between. But there is a moment – halfway through ‘She’s So High’ – when Blur’s myriad forms and highbrow musical fantasies slip into a more comfortable groove. Thereafter, it’s pretty much a case of striding – or in Damon’s case, leaping – onwards and upwards.

Because just as Radiohead have finally relaxed into their social role vis-`-vis serving ‘Creep’ up to the masses, so the back-to-the-rumpus-roots vibe of ‘Blur’ appear to have taken a tremendous amount of pressure off its makers’ shoulders. Forget Britpop or the Oasis wars or ‘The Cheeky Fucking Chirpy Years’ – there are times here when you’re transported straight back to, say, Tufnell Park Dome circa Too Bloody Long Ago. Alex swaggers with his bass and smokes tabs with almost indecent loucheness. Graham plays up the nerdy angle with his little-boy-lost backing vocals while taking great care over his array of effects pedals. And Damon simply hurls himself between the two, damaging his foot and developing the most extraordinary tuft of hair on the back of his head, not unlike a five-year-old who hasn’t mastered the art of combing.

“I was nervous at the beginning,” he tells 8,000 people at the start of the encore. “And now I’m not.” Bonk! He headbutts his microphone. “Thanks!” It is cute. It is cunning. It is irredeemably cool. More pertinently, there is something tremendously natural about this ’97 model which means that they now glow where they used to gloat. And yeah, as the final slammings of ‘Song 2’ keep reverberating through the sweaty frames of the gobsmacked departing fans you get the peculiar feeling that, like teachers and crack squads of security guards, Blur really should leave those Kids alone. But not quite just yet, eh?

Simon Williams