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BLUR - Birmingham NEC - 09 December 1999.   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Wednesday, 19 May 2004
Flogging An Old Horse....

Blur are in an odd position tonight. Hot on the heels of their most artistically successful album, whereby Damon et al. stripped away the ironic third person smugness of jolly nonsense such as "Great Escape" in favour of the heartfelt, sincere, "13", Blur are loved, but no longer popular.

After their best shows yet - where "13" live and breathed in fields across the world - they are reduced to taking their greatest hits out to play in an uninspired, boring, predictable - arthouse experiment to showcase their 10 year history. From the start, where perfectly executed slabs of unadventurous pre- baggy such as the risible "Bang" bore the masses, Blur look uninterested. What appeared firstly as an interesting one-off experiment has now become, of all things, a slog. Alex looks tired, Damon hams it up, playing the crowd as if it were Metallica at the Wembley Stadium, and Graham - visibly bored stiff - hides his contempt thinly by playing "Bang" one-handed and stifling a yawn with the other. Still, the people don't care. They jump around to the hits, watch themsleves on video (oh look, there I am!), reminiesce over the worst haircuts of the decade and clips from year old gigs, and the band gradually get more interested - and interesting - as time marches on. I'm not the only one to think that I could have come in tonght during the encore and missed nothing of interest.

The opening part of the set I Know, She's So High, Theres No Other Way, Bang, - a storming Popscene - take most of the NEC back to a time when they were probably between 8 and 14. A reference to playing JB's fall on pubescent ears. The next stretch - the generally aimless "Modern Life" period - is more engaging. For Tommorow, Chemical World, and Sunday Sunday murder the almost interested NEC crowd. Then the drearily predictable, i'm-a-cockerney-wanka section, as Damon disinterestedly belts out Girls+Boys (to mass pogoing from rugby shirts), the beautiful To the End, Parklife (which Phil Daniels sings, as Damon takes a well- deserved break from such chirpy crap), and End Of a Century. The pacing - chronological singles all the way - is a nightmare, as each well- recieved hit is followed by a mogadon ballad. Quick slow quick quick slow indeed.

They even faithfully reproduce the nadir of Blur's career - the Great Escape - with Country House (the shittest number one ever), Universal, the empty Stereotypes, and the embarassing Charmless Man (a Smiths homage with old-mother-brahn piano) is enough to drive all but the most tasteless of the masses to the now closed bar. As the encore hits (though strangely, no one claps or applauds, knowing they'll come back to play the non-shit-bits), Blur begin to look interested, as they start playing something that isn't predictable brass and quirky lyrics. They actually explore the music, and don't just look like four individuals thrown onstage to relive past embarassments.

What's more depressing is that during the majestic Beetlebum, a steady crowd of 14 year olds push past, waiting eagerly to get 20 worth of adolescent jumping around to that Whoo-Hoo! song.

And so it goes on, to the most interesting end. "13". Tender, Coffee+TV (punctuated by a frantic last-ditch attempt at jumping around), and the devastating No Distance Left To Run, which is sung to a largely empty hall as the moshpit kids go outside to be picked up by Mummy and Daddy. Damon writing decent songs actually doesn't interest anyone. Give us the one we can jump around to. What's probably saddest is the biggest cheer of the night comes as the cartoon milk carton Graham waves at the crowd during the guitar solo of Coffee+TV. People seem to be cheering for something which doesn't actually exist. So tonight Blur traded in artistic integrity (the piss-on-your-embarassment-from-great-height, brave "13") for an empty cheap handjob to please the masses.

Empty, Hollow, this is the story of a charmless band....

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