Amsterdam RAI Park Hall

A big step for the [B]Beasties[/B]-backed charity and several strategic pokes in the eye to the ethnic-cleansing regime we haven't yet bombed  unless you count the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, of

This is the day when Generation X-Large throws its arms around the world with four near-simultaneous concerts for the Free Tibet cause in Tokyo, Sydney, Chicago and Amsterdam. A big step for the Beasties-backed charity and several strategic pokes in the eye to the ethnic-cleansing regime we haven’t yet bombed – unless you count the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, of course. Oops.

We find ourselves in the uninspiring environs of a Big Shed on the edge of Amsterdam, where local heroes Urban Dance Squad are replacing last-minute dropouts [a]Rage Against The Machine[/a]. In fact, UDS patented much of Rage‘s rap-metal schtick almost a decade ago, they just forgot to write any memorable tunes. Ho hum.

The first tingled spine of the day comes courtesy of Thom Yorke, who is lightly bearded and accompanied for most of his low-key acoustic set by an oddly unbilled Jonny Greenwood. This is Radiohead Unplugged, essentially, and it renders cynicism speechless. Because, however easily parodied Yorke’s mirthless hypersensitivity might be, that liquid-crystal voice could make even the most hardened paving stone weep buckets.

Thus ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ and ‘Karma Police’, stripped of their metallic armour, are even more sublimely radiant than ever. The guitar-stroking duo even alchemise Elvis Costello‘s clod-hopping ‘I’ll Wear It Proudly’ into molten quicksilver. But it is ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ which truly stuns with its terrible beauty as Yorke channels those vast, elemental emotions through his bird-like frame, a tiny figure pinned to the stage by forces much greater than himself. This is gospel music for a godless age, turning our Big Shed into a cathedral.

No such peaks, alas, from boil-in-the-bag existentialists Garbage. Honestly, we love the idea of a feline techno-grunge juggernaut peddling shopping-mall angst to the masses. We certainly applaud the notion of sleepy-eyed, moon-faced insect queen Shirl becoming an oddly asexual lust icon. We even quite enjoy the meaty, unusually malevolent versions of ‘Stupid Girl’ and ‘Only Happy When It Rains’ played in Amsterdam. If only they weren’t so witlessly drab and conservative at heart – prim, professional, politely paranoid, an android checklist of late-’90s alterna-rock signifiers with no discernible guiding spark.

Garbage are the Millennium Dome of pop, an impressive cluster of cutting-edge technologies combined into one depressingly mediocre whole. They are, in fact, a Big Shed. Still, at least Shirl and her Tin Machine mates have the decency to act like the polished pop product they are.

Unlike Alanis Morissette, a serenely grinning guru of gobbledegook beamed in from Planet Lobotomy and precisely the sort of neo-hippy casualty that superficially ‘spiritual’ causes like Tibet inevitably attract. If we parachuted the turbo-trilling Morissette into Tibet, the Chinese authorities would doubtless surrender within minutes.

Fortunately, headliners Blur are on hand to snatch victory from the jaws of a toothy Canadian. Damon‘s shaggy and bestubbled, a millionaire tramp who wants us to believe he’s just got out of bed. Which is great, of course, and the closest thing to a proper star performance we’ve seen all day.

‘Tender’ is first and still vital, especially now it seems to have acquired a zingy new country-rock spring in its lolloping step. ‘Coffee & TV’ more than justifies its tortuous choice as a single, all skimming waves of fuzzy-warm melancholy, Graham‘s faltering vocal sounding simultaneously light and deep. Clever. And ‘1992’ is magnificent, stretched out to a ragged mantra as Damon’s mournful melancholy unspools into echo-chamber abstraction.

Less impressively, this set fields almost nothing from before ’13’ – all the more frustrating when you consider how deathlessly lame ‘BLUREMI’ still sounds, like a Hale & Pace punk pisstake. But ‘No Distance Left To Run’ is pure beauty and pain, and probably their finest yet. Here Blur finally prove they can balance weird’n’wonky with sad’n’soulful – not forgetting their ever-present dollop of arch’n’artful. Which is their saving grace, of course. If only Alanis or Shirl could be this contrived, they might manage to be this magnificent too. And maybe then – who knows? – pop music might save the world from oppression.