To Die By Your Side

Blur – Wolverhampton Civic Hall 24/06/2009

June 25th, 2009

Reforming can be dangerous for a band. As nostalgia can be for fans. At best reputations can be reassessed. At worst, ruined. Rose tinted spectacles can lose their lustre. The music might sound the same but it can’t halt time. Bands and fans age and the pleasures of youth can easily be shattered by the sight of a single saggy man boob. Sure we’ve got our memories but they can easily be soiled by the sad sight of a band struggling to recreate their past glories.

These thoughts weigh heavy as the expectation rises almost as high as the temperature inside the Civic Hall. No longer just a warm up gig for the summer’s bigger appearances, tonight this is a sweltering hot gig with all the pressure of a second coming. People are here expecting a miracle. You get the sense that disappointment is not an option. The crowd tightens together. The stale stench of sweaty bodies fills the senses. The band walks onstage and without even a note being played the crowd goes wild. If Blur had simply turned tails and walked straight back off, some people would go home happy. It may not have the epic proportions of Oasis at Knebworth but make no mistake about it, this is an event. Besides, Blur never wanted to be the biggest. They had their sights set firmly on the best. And as Graham Coxon’s guitar feedbacks into the opening of ‘She’s So High’, it seems they may not too far off the bullseye.

All fears are forgotten. Worries fade away instantly. For the next two hours Blur deliver a performance that is intense, playful, energetic, rowdy and above all, vital. Any concerns about them going through the motions are blown away. If they’re back together for the money, they more than earn it. If they’re back for the music, it shows. Damon bounds around the stage, a ball of energy with a mischievous grin plastered across his face. He gets down the front, into the crowd, milking the adoration. Graham, clearly relishing his place back in the fold, alternates between hunching over his mic to pogoing through a series of familiar riffs and deconstructed guitar solos. Alex meanwhile, spends the entire gig looking as aloof and laidback as ever, a slight paunch the only sign that he’s been spending his time on other altogether more grown up ventures. Nerves are nowhere to be seen but there does seem to be a genuine surprise and real emotion at the reception they receive. The whole band appear visibly moved by the whole thing. Damon on a couple of occasions begins to explain himself or say something heartfelt but breaks off, clearly unable to truly express what he’s feeling. For someone who very often comes across with a smug arrogance, it makes him seem somehow vulnerable. More mature. No longer putting on a laddish front. Having never seen the band live before it’s impossible to make comparisons but I can’t imagine they’ve ever looked so comfortable on stage. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d imagined the split. But then, with no new record to promote, no agenda to fulfil, Blur are in control. They’re under no stress and no obligation except to please the fans and have a good time. And this may well be the best time to ever see them. A huge band in a relatively small venue with none of the weariness or monotony that sets in after a long tour regularly playing the same songs over and over. Tonight both the band and the songs sound fresh, invigorated and urgent.

They race through the first five songs barely pausing except for a quick hello. The pace is face. The rough nature of the performance enhancing the song greatly. You get the sense the band are really enjoying playing them again. A clear case of absence making the heart grow fonder. ‘Girls And Boys’ sees the first of many singalongs, ‘Tracey Jacks’ is frantic, while ‘There’s No Other Way’ sends the crowd into an apoplectic frenzy. ‘Jubilee’ ends and leads into the evenings only flat moment. ‘Badhead’ sees the pace drop so suddenly that the atmosphere dies for an instant. The crowd suddenly thrown into an awkward stillness. Not that it lasts long. A monstrous ‘Beetlebum’ soon follows, all heavy intensity that builds to an incedible crescendo that both stuns and reawakens the crowd.

Graham takes the lead for ‘Coffee And TV’ to huge applause. The song chugs along loose and carefree, eventually petering out to nothing as though the band forget how to end it. Whether a mistake or pre-planned, it’s a great moment. Graham and Damon egging each other on as their playing slows and softens. ‘Tender’ follows, performed as a mass singalong that lasts While at odds to the emotionally bare and personal nature of the lyrics, the chorus is roared out uniting the crowd and band as one. The song veers from full band to crowd to Damon solo before a rousing finale, everyone joining in to finish it off once more. It is a stunning moment.

And from one amazing moment to another, albeit vastly different one. Much has been made of the band saying they were working on a new version of the much maligned (by me at least) ‘Country House’. Despite a set list of filled with far better songs, ‘Country house’ may well be the best example of how good this Blur gig is. For, while on record the song is completely throwaway and mildly irritating, tonight it sounds really good. There’s nothing particularly different about the way they play it but they do it with such enthusiasm, that the quality of the song almost becomes irrelevant. It is just a fun singalong that sets the crowd up for the last leg of the set. One which sees the band ramp up the energy once more. They rip up ‘Chemical World’, race through ‘Sunday Sunday’ and peak with a sped up ‘Parklife’, Damon racing through each line ahead, struggling to fit in the lyrics before each crowd yelled ‘Parklife’. They finish with a trio of emotionally charged singalong anthems, culminating in a glorious ‘This Is A Low’ that ends the first part of the show.

Back then for the first of two encores and three songs which raise the pace and energy to punk proportions. ‘Popscene’ sees pogoing en mass. Damon launches himself off the stage into the crowd at the end of a frenzied ‘Advert’ before the crowd woohoo themselves hoarse to ‘Song 2’. Off then on again for the final two tracks. The pace slowed for two anthemic singalongs that sees the crowd bond once more. ‘For Tomorrow’ is simply wonderful, heartfelt and strangely moving. And then the strings from ‘The Universal’ cut through the applause. Arms go up and Damon leads the crowd through a stunning rendition, ironically singing a word perfect ‘how we like to sing along, though the words are wrong’. Pausing before leaving the stage, Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave soak up the applause and take in the atmosphere. The well deserved reward for a gig that was better than anyone could have hoped or imagined. Make no mistake, this was an event.

Set List: She’s So High / Girls And Boys / Tracy Jacks / There’s No Other Way / Jubilee / Badhead / Beetlebum / Out Of Time / Trimm Trabb / Coffee And TV / Tender / Country House / Oily Water / Chemical World / Sunday Sunday / Parklife / End Of A Century / To The End / This Is A Low / Encore: Popscene / Advert / Song 2 /  Encore 2: For Tomorrow / The Universal

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