My 2003 gigging renaissance continued with this raucous and moving gig from Blur.
Blur have always occupied an unusual place amongst my crowded and disparate list of all time favourite bands. I never obsessed over them as a teenager like I did for example the Manics or Suede, but in 2003 they had been quietly there in my life for well over a decade, like a faithful friend.
‘Blur, who’ve been in my life longer than Suede, longer than the Manics, flickering in and out of attention, and sneakily stealing little pieces of my soul every now and then without me even noticing.
Until a gig like this, that is.’
In May 2003 I was still reeling from the shock of the split of Mansun, another band I loved far to much for my own health and sanity. I found myself musing on this as I wandered into the Astoria for this evening’s gig.
‘The last time I was at the Astoria was way back in Feb ’01, my last ever Mansun gig. It seemed altogether a good thing that, in the aftershock of their split, I should return there and witness such a joyous gig as this.
for Gigs Must Go On!!!’
I’d been suffering from a cold for a week prior to this gig, so I’d planned to take it slightly easy and not race to the front as I usually do at gigs. Needless to say, I failed.
‘Well I was determined not to give in to the Call of the Barrier tonight, but hang back in the throng, ‘cos unwell as I am I was sure I’d pass out in the crush at the front. I did find myself a nice space on the left, room to move. Then the support band came on and I thought, I’ll just have a closer look… and then I was 3 or 4 rows from the front. Call it a compromise.’
The gig started in fine style with some excellent support from the Bees. Where are they now, I wonder? Apparently, they still exist in a new form called 77:78 and sounding much the same as I describe them below.
‘Support was fab tho’! The Bees, who pulled off the astonishing trick of being both jazzy and tuneful, with lovely Simon and Garfunkelesque harmonies and a cute lead singer who strangely looked so much like Damon Albarn I did a bit of a double take when they first came on.’
But it was the real Damon Albarn and his chums that I was most excited to see, and as ever, I had to get the visual aspect of the band recorded in my diary first. Regular readers of this blog will no doubt to be relieved to discover that I was much less, erm, heated in my descriptions of this evening’s boys than I had been for the Placebo gig a few weeks previously.
‘Blur! Just how fucking cool is Alex James? Cigarette perpetually dangling from his mouth, his pretty pretty face disguised with stubble, and yet, so cool. And Damon! Came on stage a bit later than the other boys for maximum applause effect, in a very snazzy suit. I was glad he’d made the effort. And Graham’s been replaced by someone called Simon, tho’ I can’t say I really noticed.’
Essential info noted, I was able to launch into how the music sounded. They began with “Ambulance” and “Moroccan People’s Revolutionary Bowls Club”, ‘all groovy stuff from the new album and great with it.‘ But we were very quickly catapulted into Blur Classics with “Beetlebum” and “Girls and Boys”, and the crowd started to get a bit rowdy.
‘“Beetlebum” sounded lovely but crowd movement meant I spent much of it trying to find a safe place. I ended up against the barrier between the crowd and the stairs to the Ladies, about three rows back and with the twin benefits of excellent view and something to lean on. Only disadvantage being not being able to pogo about during “Girls and Boys”, but what did that matter when I could watch Damon doing it?‘
After some ‘more groovy new album stuff‘ there was a change in backdrop to the band, with weather themed images being projected behind the band for the rest of the gig.
‘And suddenly… swirling clouds appear on the screen behind them and they do “Badhead” and it’s all plaintive and lovely and I feel only the teensiest bit of regret that once again they do “Badhead” yet not “End Of A Century”.’ I’d previously complained in my diary about that same neglect of one of my fave “Parklife” tracks when I’d last seen them way back in December 1997.
But I couldn’t feel disappointed very long considering what was about to come. ‘Damon told us about how the lyrics of their next tune had ended up graffiti’d in Primrose Hill, and you know, it’s only “For Tomorrow”!!!‘
“For Tomorrow” is a song that means so much to me. When it came out in 1993, 18 year old me was still stuck in Perth, dreaming of escape to the greatest city in the world, the excitement of which was described with such poetic clarity in “For Tomorrow”. And here I was a decade on, in that city, watching them perform it live – but alas, not without sound gremlins.
‘Christ, and as I sing along to the first verse I am nearly tearful, thinking about that weirdest of times, exactly ten years ago, and how “For Tomorrow” encapsulated so much for me: my yearning for excitement and meaning, and the thing that represented them both to me: London. It is without question one of the songs of my life. How bloody annoying, then, that the speakers on my side had to cut out half way through, spoiling the moment a bit. Well at least it stopped me from getting maudlin. And the sound came back in time for the last verse. No, I can’t complain, really.’
Next up was another absolute favourite of mine, “Tender”, and due to the sound issues in “For Tomorrow”, this was probably the highlight of the gig for me. ‘So glorious, uplifting, so tender. Just sang along, my spirits orbiting the stars. Just threw my arms in the air at “come on come on come on, get through it” and felt, as I did once long ago in the very same venue, that this is what it’s all about.“
The gig I referenced was My Life Story’s exuberant election night gig in May 1997, when I was at the very beginning of my life in London, and full of the joys of gigging that had been denied to me for so long as a teen in Australia. It’s safe to say, in 2003, those joys came back in epic style. ‘It’s been a long time.’
The wonderful new tunes continued apace. ‘There was “Out of Time”, their unutterably gorgeous latest single – truly their catalogue of great, great singles is matched by few. And at some point there was “Gene By Gene”, one of my faves off “Think Tank” and a lovely jumpy catchy little number.‘
At this point, the gig switched gear dramatically, and now here comes possibly the only time I’ve ever used a football metaphor to describe a gig. ‘But this, my friends, was a gig of two halves, and half two began when Damon removed his stylish jacket and began leaping about in a sweaty frenzy to “Crazy Beat” and “Song 2”.’
It was time for the gig to crash into overdeive with a series of frenetic tunes, and the crowd were well and truly up for it.
‘The mayhem! He stagedived during both songs, being held up by the crowd still singing the final “Yeahyeahyeahyeahyeah!!!”’s of “Crazy Beat”, and just disappearing during “Song 2”. Marvellous. Then there was “Trimm Trabb” to mellow it out a little before going insane again in “Topman”.‘
The main set of the gig finished back in mellow style with ‘the aching, gorgeous “Battery In Your Leg”, with Damon’s repeated cry of “you can be with me”, so heart breaking. I’ve been listening to the new album all week, and this song has already found its way into my soul, it seems. For as they played it, I was sure it was something from “Blur” or “13”. Couldn’t believe it when I got home and realised it was a song that in fact I’d only known for six days.’
And then it was time for an encore which, as encores go, was pretty epic.
‘Oh I so did not want this gig to end. They did “Caravan”, another fab groovy new album tune, and “Popscene”, which I’ve only ever heard at the two Blur gigs I’ve been to as it’s not on the albums and was never released in Australia.’
Then it was “On The Way To The Club”, another of my favourites from “Think Tank”, ‘with its pretty, melancholy refrain of “my eyes aren’t blue there’s nothing I can do.” It ended with such a barrage of guitar wigout that I was sure it’d be the end, but no! off they go straight into the lunatic screamer that is “We’ve Got a File On You”.
It seems like I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want this gig to end. ‘Damon seems to be having the time of his life, shouting “again!” when it finishes, and they crash through it once more. And then a third time. ‘Twas a glorious mayhem of noise and I just stood there, watching it all from the safety of my side barrier and did not envy the moshers.‘
But it had to end eventually, and it did so in spectacular, emotional style.
‘Well the sun had gone down in their weather related backdrop so the end was upon us, and how better to do it than with “This Is A Low”? Damon’s voice is shattered but it’s still beautiful, and beautiful to see how much he has enjoyed himself. We are a sea of arms illuminated in red and purple and it’s quite moving, really.‘
It had been a truly wonderful gig, a showcase of Blur’s monumental back catalogue, just as full of big, soul-stirringly emotional songs as crazy, pogo-jumping stormers. After seeing Placebo a few weeks previously I’d found myself pondering their place in my pantheon of musical faves, and I found myself doing the same with Blur after this great, great gig.
‘Blur: another band we are very lucky to have, though in an entirely different way to Placebo. I feel a fierce affection for them now, like you might for a younger sibling who annoys the hell out of you at times, but somehow keeps managing to brighten your life just when you least expect it. And it’s a very nice feeling.’
At this point in 2003, I had just one more Blur gig ahead of me, at the end of the year. I haven’t seen them since then, and with Damon keeping himself incredibly busy with Gorillaz and The Good, the Bad and the Queen, there’s no knowing when Blur may resurface. But one things is for sure: when they do reappear I’ll be there at their gigs, absolutely ready for them to brighten my life once again.