O2 Academy Oxford Friday, April 13
Fast-forward four months to Blur’s Olympics gig in Hyde Park. Imagine the hordes of Stella’d-up lads “woo-hoo”-ing, the burger vans cooking up cheap meat and the people hollering for ‘Parklife’ outnumbering the quiet souls hoping for ‘Trimm Trabb’. Don’t get me wrong, Blur’s victory lap (and likely final outing if Damon’s Observer interview is to be believed) is going to be glorious. But you get the feeling guitarist Graham Coxon would rather be here with his middle-aged fans and a gobby group of teens who pepper the between-song silences with yells for him to take his top off. “You wouldn’t like it,” he retorts.
The first date of his ‘A+E’ tour is a world away from the enorma-gigs Blur have become accustomed to, or “those big pompous things” as Coxon will later describe his recent award-studded outings. He seems more at ease in places like this. “We’re all ill but we don’t give a shit,” he says about him and his band, before launching into itchy new album opener ‘Advice’, its grungy hooks making it one of the catchiest songs in his arsenal. From there we go on a trio of classics – ‘Don’t Let Your Man Know’ powers by on sexual frustration and charging fretwork, ‘Standing On My Own Again’ kicks the crowd up a notch and ‘I Don’t Wanna Go Out’ rings with as much nihilistic energy as ever.
But it’s the new material which is most exciting. It takes balls to throw out five tracks in a row from an LP that’s been out for five days, but that’s what he does. In ‘City Hall’’s hardened pulses and the robot staccato of ‘Meet+Drink+Pollinate’ emerge the more experimental angles of ‘A+E’, while ‘Running For Your Life’ harks back to the giddy abandon and indie kicks of ‘Freakin’ Out’, which is busted out later for the gobby teens. When he returns to familiar ground to play ‘Crow Sit On Blood Tree’’s ‘You Never Will Be’ and tonight’s closing gambit, ‘Spinning Top’, you feel like it’s because they’re the best songs, not because he likes churning out the hits. Graham’s got a big summer of Blur love ahead, but left to his own devices he’s as wonderfully, wilfully obtuse as ever. He never did get his top off.