London Royal Festival Hall
[b]nme.com[/b] brings you the first report on [a]Blur[/a]'s only show in the world this year...More on
Starting the set with 'Battle' with a curt "Good evening - this is it, once this year, the choice has been difficult," from frontman Damon Albarn, they go for the jugular with a ferocious assault on the song. Guitarist Graham Coxon, who embarks on his solo tour in a week's time, seems to be more upfront in the vocal mix, his backing tones stronger than before and more powerful, the whole song reaching out, with Damon screaming into the microphone.
The holy tones of 'Tender' are swollen by six members of the London Community Gospel Choir, with a typically louche Alex James, fag drooping from mouth, swaps his bass for a double-bass. They delve back into the album 'Modern Life Is Rubbish' for 'Blue Jeans', described by Damon as a song that he wrote when moved to West London, but it seems an odd choice when none of the album's singles are included in tonight's set and there are times when they seem almost self-conscious during it.
Then 'Trimm Trabb' comes along and bangs it all to hell, with Damon giving the assembled Blur faithful a big come-on, winking and grinning, almost luring them into it, forcing them to give more of a reaction. The front sections of the audience are more static than they were are last night's Radiohead show in the same venue. He does engage them, but - maybe being a more arty, analytical festival crowd than your average Blur audience - it doesn't take off in quite the way it might do.
'Country Sad Ballad Man' is "about the generation that put us all in the state that we are in now," then 'To The End' is dedicated to Scott Walker with the words: "He had an enormous influence on all our [Blur's] lives."
The frontman is clearly enjoying 'Look Inside America' and it is one of the best of the older songs they play tonight, with Damon wreathed in genuine, huge grins.
And then it all goes a bit pear-shaped with 'Beetlebum', with Damon and Graham collapsing in fits of giggles looking at Alex, the song disintegrating halfway through. They restart and carry on and the punters really don't seem to mind at all.
'This Is A Low' is the highlight by miles. Damon has his arms aloft, swathed in scarlet lighting, and the whole crowd raising its voice in chorus with him. It's beautiful, perfect.
'Ernold Same' sees the celebrity guest slot for the evening - no, it's not Kylie, it's not Billie, it is a nubile Ken Livingston perched on a podium to the left of the drum-riser, looking for all the world like your dad perched up there, awkwardly (almost) boogieing away. He's enjoying himself though, bless.
The finale of the encore-free set is the new track 'Black Book', which is almost hesitantly introduced with the words: "This is the one new song we are playing, if you don't like it we're fucked." It almost picks up where 'Tender' left off, a lengthy build-up but they are baring themselves in this song, the refrain "give me my soul" reinforced again, and again, and again. The song builds up to a huge, pounding guitar track, echoing the tempo of 'Tender'.
Despite howls for 'Song 2' there is no encore, it's a no-nonsense, no-frills set and pretty unpredictable. Whether they wussed out of the shock-set entirely comprised of new songs as hinted at by Coxon or whether it was never really on the cards isn't clear. But an audience leave thoroughly satisfied. Whether the band are or not, we don't know.
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