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BLUR - Brixton Academy - 03 December 2003   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Tuesday, 14 September 2004
It's Blur Jim, But Not As We Know Them.

It's not Blur. It's the Damon Albarn ego thing. It's some weird karaoke variation. It's a contractual obligation. It's Pink fucking Floyd. Roll on the spare guitarist, the percussionist, the extra keyboard player, the trio of gospel vocalists. Roll on the fact that two thirds of the people on stage aren't actually in Blur, but hired hands, temps, jobsworths picked up to fatten out the sound of an anorexic, anaemic band.  

Let alone the fact that for most of the evening it sounds as if each member of the band is playing a different song. And that, for most of the set, the band perform a decidedly retro collection of Nineties-indie-disco staples that just sound plain weird. Apart from an opening, stellar, "Ambulance", it's some seven songs in before Blur start playing anything that isn't at least seven years old : "Beetlebum", "Girls And Boys", "Bad Day", "She's So High", all dispatched, almost dispassionately. As if Damon is caught between the mutually opposed opposites, trapped by his past. Always knowing that people want to hear the old songs, not the new ones.

By the time of the seventh song, the erm, inaccurately titled dirge that is "Good Song", it becomes apparent that Blur have lost us. The hall, the cavernous Brixton Academy becomes nothing less, and nothing more, than a very big pub with a band at one end. Tell me more about your dreadful day at work, you drunk behind me..

Meantime, back here on the ground, like the stain of an old tattoo, you can never escape your past. There's a new, obscure thing called "Colours" (head and shoulders above most of what's on ‘Think Tank', fact fiends), and a botched, self-confessedly abortive hatchet job on "Out Of Time". The atmosphere falls away, this place is like the moon. Vast, empty, a bit dull. Everyone just stands around and watched as the band plug on with the new songs, with an air of It's-Okay-because-Song2-is-in-a-bit.

But this isn't a band : it's a bunch of musical workers : there's no sense of watching a gang, or even something operating in tandem : each player is playing separately, slightly out of time, slightly behind or ahead of the beat. "Song 2" sounds wrong : it sounds like two puppies fighting in a bag, instead of two puppies fighting with the bag. The hastily dispatched campfire singalong "Tender" is bludgeoned into submission, transformed into some huge Robbie Williams anthem instead of some tender, brittle love song. The band don't perform songs : they execute them

"Song 2" is sandwiched between the half-arsed "Out Of Time" and the less-than-thrilling, closing-time waltz of "To The End". The gig is paced like a fucked clock, a heart attack. Some random, stuttering, confused, geriatric thing.

Instead of long-departed Graham Coxon's spiky indie sensibilities, rock journeyman Simon Tong, inaudible in the shadows stage left, imitates glories of decades past and looks thoroughly bored. Band Space Geek Dave pounds the drums and barks along all of Coxon's old backing vocals, whilst Posh Fop Alex James generates some awesome, subatomic space rumble with his bass. Which, when this new-look Blur try to play anything recent, sounds fantastic. When they're trying to recreate the sound of the Liverpool Krazy House indie disco of 1992, it just sounds sad. And horribly wrong.

So, sure, Blur's best songs are often also their worst. These wry, voyeuristic vignettes, where wife swapping is the future, and we are made of computers, straight out of the pages of Benny Hill. It made me think that for far too long, there wasn't really a Damon Albarn, but some abstract concept that fed off others without any sense of self.

Miaow.
 
 The show finally takes off as it hits the closing strait. A band previously veering between autopilot and irrelevance finally propels itself somewhere exciting with a definitive "Music Is My Radar", a weedy* but formidable "PopScene", and dark, deep mined takes on "Brothers And Sisters" and "Trimm Trabb". Instead of trying to straddle the twee-indie of the early Nineties, or the wilful, meaningless irrelevance of the early Noughties, Blur just play the songs, and get on with it. Which is so so much better. Because instead of pretending to be other people, Blur start to be themselves. The mask slips and we see the real you.

* well, compared to the biting Velocoraptorish Coxon-original

But again, its the final encore that again almost grates. Two-parts retro nostalgia versus one-part perverse futurism, the twee Knees-up-Mother-Brown of "For Tomorrow" and "Parklife" are broken by the naked, boring "Me, White Noise".

Make no mistake, Blur are a business venture now. When the band looked at their contracts after Graham left, they realised that not to make an album would cost them millions. So they took their timecards, clocked on, and did this. Damon as musical director, playing the rest of the band like an orchestra, plumped up by contractual obligation, and the obligatory Phil Daniels guest appearance. "Why are we here?" asks Phil during "Me, White Noise", "....Because we've got no fucking choice!", before shouting at us, "Boring, boring, boring".

It might be a song about commuting - at least, I think it is. But it's easily the most relevant comment made by the band tonight. Come on, Blur. Let go. It's Over. You don't have to tell me. I knew it would end this way...

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