Blur
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Blur




For Blur fans, it’s been an interminable wait – more than 18 long years – since everyone’s favourite Britpopper’s last played Melbourne. It was by all accounts, a modest affair in 1997 at Monash University, which apparently wasn’t even sold out. It’s fair to say there’s a HUGE contingent of music fans here tonight at Rod Laver Arena who are well and truly hankering for a large, fresh serve of Magic Whip!

One senses that the band are very much aware of this hunger. A quick glance at the recent setlists from Sydney and Splendour In The Grass in Byron Bay paint a very clear picture that these Australian BLUR gigs are all about celebrating their complete body of work. The boys have gone back with an appraising eye and polished up nuggets from their past that have withstood the critical ravages of time. These crowd pleasers have been lovingly interspersed with choice cuts from the new album ‘The Magic Whip’.

Blur

Tonight Blur have elected that Wimbledonian Jamie T will fill the support slot. It's well documented Damon Albarn has been a friend and mentor for Jamie, with Damon volunteering his studio 'anytime he needed it’ for Jamie T to record ‘Kings & Queens’ during a difficult time as he convalesced his parent through sickness.

After seeing his ‘lightning in a bottle’ set earlier this year at the Forum where there was multiple crowdsurfing from the first song, I am dead keen to get there early and see what he has in store for us tonight.

He appears bang on time with his band the Pacemakers and strangely, it’s a quieter set. Largely taken from his latest album ‘Carry On The Grudge’ with only one track each from the stellar 'Kings & Queens’ and ‘Panic Prevention’. He explains they just played a frantic gig at Splendour In The Grass where they ‘frightened the shit out of the crowd', so tonight they have chosen to play a slower, quieter set. Rod Laver Arena is a hard place to play a support slot at the best of times, and the choice to concentrate on slower, quieter numbers probably contributes to the subdued reaction from the audience on the floor, who at this early stage are still only just trickling in.

It’s not until the last few more rockier numbers that we start to see some moshing down the front. ‘If You Got The Money’ and ‘Zombie’ are very well received with the crowd recognising the tracks and singing along in the choruses. Jamie is very appreciative and thanks Blur for the opportunity to play as opener saying he’s been a fan since he was knee high.


Jamie T’s set list:

Limits Lie
Don't You Find
Turn On The Light
Murder of Crows
Love Is Only A Heartbeat Away
368
Rabbit Hole
They Told Me It Rained
If You Got the Money
Zombie

Blur

There is a short break and patrons head back out on mass to check out the merchandise. The merchandise stands just inside the venue groan under the immense range of cleverly designed Blur 'Magic Whip' variants – t-shirts, badges, comic books, hats, mirrors, etc. Punters know quality design when they see it and the trade is brisk. I also note the Arena bar have got creative and are also in on the act, offering illuminated Magic Whip style drinks – plenty make their way down to the floor area – under the wistful gaze of the unfortunate few who opted for water.

The standing area is slow to fill but eventually is at capacity when the lights finally go down. Out of the darkness, we hear the childhood chimes of the neighbourhood Ice Cream Van ring out – signalling it’s finally time to Whip it... We even hear ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ which brings a chuckle from those who recognise it.

Blur

As the fabulous foursome – singer/guitarist/keyboardist Damon Albarn, guitarist/singer Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree appear at the top of the stairs and are spotted by the crowd. The place goes mental… the buzz is palpable.

Only a moments pause as they quickly wave to the crowd and then gear up – the preshow tension is finally shattered by a squalling Coxon who is then joined by a warm crunchy backbeat from Alex and Dave. It’s the lead single ‘Go Out’ ... Damon paces the stage lip, like an angsty teenager looking for trouble, all the time clapping his band on. Struggling to get the response he is looking for, he heads straight to the drum riser, grabs a bottle of water which he proceeds to empty over the first few rows. Photographers in the pit, duck for cover. Heads bob along in recognition and we are off to a good start.

Blur

“How are you all?” Damon asks... as we crank into the distinctive opening riff of ‘There’s No Other Way’ from 1991’s Leisure... He gestures to the audience for more and dutifully delivers another bottle of water, – this time in long arcs over the now writhing mosh pit. Coxon is well and truly in the house and the response of recognition to his riffs from the audience is massive. As Blur’s noise maestro, he is an essential piece of the Blur puzzle and regales us with the hallmark sonics that make these songs so indelibly Blurrish.

People around me on the lower levels jump to their feet in excitement and soon others seated further back have no choice but to join them. To their credit, the staff at Rod Laver Arena are understanding and do not pounce.

A siren wail announces ‘Lonesome Street’ and we are once more into new ‘Whip territory.’ More water. The front floor manager has his work cut out as he mops down audio leads in front of the foldback speakers. Coxon shares vocal duties on this one while Albarn coaches the audience on where to sing the Woo-ooo-woos. Towards the end of the track they are finally warming up and getting the hang of it.


It’s a revelation to hear the new material performed in a live setting, all ‘pumped up and attitudinal’ – the core four-piece are suitably augmented tonight by a three piece brass section, a keyboardist and four backing singers. The new songs are infinitely quirky in their instrumentation and Damon’s lyrics ride the punky attitude effortlessly. New material performed live for an audience is always a gamble, but when it’s a band with the self conviction of Blur, in next to no time, heads on the floor are swaying – which tell the band all they need to know. The Melbourne crowd are receptive and are digging the new stuff.

Ever the charmer, Albarn is on point tonight:

“Yeah!... Melbourne’s always alright, innit? Kinda... slightly more ‘tuned in’... not sayin’ that everywhere else in Australia isn’t tuned in, but just that it’s slightly ‘more’ tuned in... isn’t that right? Yeah!”

The Brass section introduces the next track. I soon recognise it as the warm comfy old shoe, ‘Badhead’ from 1994’s Parklife. We’re all smiling on the inside. We’re not just getting the hits tonight but some little heard gems as well.

As any music lover knows, the true beauty of lyrics is their ability to resonate on many levels. To some, Damon’s are simply quirky and laddish, while to others, they can really get under the skin and effect on a deeply personal level and this is the vibe I get from this track. The sentiment and personability of this one is deep and I’m interested to see if others are feeling it. I look around and see eyes closed heads back and groups of lads fairly bellowing out the song’s heartfelt chorus.

“And I might as well GRIN and BEAR IT...because it’s not worth the trouble of an argument...”

As the song crescendoes, Damon impulsively steps down from the stage and into the audience. Loving arms instinctively reach up and support him as he stands alone, all floppy necked and resigned. It’s a warm family celebration type of vibe now as he introduces the next track, ‘Ghost Ship’. It’s a laid-back almost calypso vibe and Coxon’s guitar lines are soft and sunny.

A very boyish “Hi!’ from Graham in the next break as he launches into the vocals for ‘Coffee and TV”. While Coxon concentrates on both vocal and guitar duties, Damon – spotting Alex down near the stage edge, steps up behind him and leans back to back against the bass player... as he pushes more and more heavily, he threatens to push Alex into the crowd. It all a bit of fun and reflects just what a buzz these guys are having playing all together again. Towards the end, the audience drowns out the band’s vocals with their repeated refrain of “We can start over again”.

“Quite melodious... aren’t we?”, Damon quips.


It’s now time for ‘Out of Time’ from 2003’s much maligned ‘Think Tank’. Tonight’s it’s got a great vibe and Damon, still with the acoustic, takes the lead solo, plucking out a lovely few bars. At the song’s close, Damon takes a few moments to reflect.

“As I do, I was casually looking at all these lovely faces... and I was looking at this guy here ...and then I looked at his arm.... and I was like... hang on... what’s he got tattooed on his arm?.. That’s like... is this a work in progress or is this ...Is this all you’re gonna have done or are you gonna have more? Aaa? I think you should introduce yourself ‘coz THAT’s a very unique arm you’ve got”

“Thank you Damon, I’m Adam, ...without you guys, my life would be completely different ...so THANK YOU!”

Damon visibly blushes. “No...Thank YOU!” and as he returns to the stage, “...well, this song’s for you... Adam.”

The band launch into the raspy intro of 1997’s ‘Beetlebum’ from their self-titled album ‘Blur’. It’s crowd singalong time and Coxon gives it his all at the the end as the song concludes with it’s ever tightening upward spiral feedback crescendo.


Time for a tempo change and the floating spacey intro to ‘Thought I Was A Spaceman’ begins. The shiny centres of the three giant Chinese Mirrors suddenly transform into massive mirrorballs and the Arena is bathed in stars. The lazy soothing synth lines on this very Bowiesque track are completely entrancing and Damon spends most of the latter part of the song flat on his back resting on the stage looking up at the whirling stars, as Graham sings his lead part.


‘Trimm Trabb’, another album track from '13' is next and it’s an opportunity for the laddish Albarn to disappear into the audience on a rather long mic lead. He travels halfway along the length of the arena on the left hand side with his stage manager and security team frantically trying to fend off over-zealous fans and at the same time feed out enough mic lead to make the journey. It is terribly chaotic and they have their hands full but at the same time, it’s a heart-warming moment. Damon howls like a banshee at one point in the song. The punters love it and it’s a sea of handshakes and head rubs. Back safely on stage again now and it’s the poor drummer’s turn to cop it as Damon playfully throws towels – and yes, you guessed it, water over him. Dave smiles and carries on unfazed, obviously he’s seen it all before. At the end, Damon applauds his performance.

“Not bad for an old cunt is he? Haha...! Excuse my vernacular... you know,...I’m sure a lot of you are descendants of that vulgarity... in one way or another... this next one’s a very quiet song”

The gorgeous “My Terracotta Heart” is next. It’s a seldom heard track and I doubt anyone would have picked we’d hear it tonight. It’s played out with Damon strumming acoustic on the drum riser. He temporarily forgets the words and has a laugh. It’s a lilting plaintive song:

“I’m running out of heartache
Just sitting out the constant doubt in my day
But I don’t know what it is
I’m sweating out the toxins
Is my terracotta heart breaking? I don’t know
If I’m losing you
If I’m losing you again”

The band is certainly in a playful relaxed mood and reflecting on the messed up lyrics, Damon quips in the break, “You know... we could spend the rest of the gig doing... sort of... requests... on songs we hadn’t rehearsed... be kinda different, as long as you didn’t mind us having to go through things a few times.... and maybe I’d need to get a few lyric sheets to get a few chords and stuff...?”

Coxon stymies that marvellous and novel idea by playing 'Tender', the rousing intro to 1999’s ‘13’.

The audience immediately reverts to full gusto singalong mode:
“C’mon C’mon, C’mon... love’s the greatest thing...”

Blur

It’s another warm moment with smiles all around. As Graham sings his part, Damon playfully kneels at the foot of Graham’s mike stand looking back up at him. Doing anything to make him smile and lose composure. Clearly still very much a kid at heart. The song gets one of the heartiest applauses for the night so far.

“This is one of our pre-internet songs…”

More water. The frantic intro to 1994’s ‘Trouble In The Message Center’ from ‘Parklife’ ensues and it’s yet again another excuse to drench the audience in water and then disappear into the crowd. This time down the other side of the arena. More cable leads, security and smiles...

Where do you go after the franticness of that song? Time for a little audience participation methinks...

“Thank you! ...this is turning out to be such a sort of ‘family affair’ it feels to me... but it would be really nice to get a few of you onstage for this song... (looks at stage manager) Two???? Oh, that’s very mean of you Smoggy... I think YOU need to come up HERE and say that... “Two people???” when there’s 'so many people'... Well, I think those two down the front definitely... and the man with the ‘work in progress’.. I dunno... about another 15 people....” (Huge cheers)

Two very young kids wearing Blur t-shirts and Adam, the tattooed man from earlier and his partner get up. Damon encourages the youngest boy to empty another water bottle over the front row which understandably elicits huge cheers.

As the intro to ‘Parklife’ begins, the kids are ecstatic, pogoing around. The four visitors all chime in on the ‘PARK-LIFE’ refrain whenever Damon swings his microphone back to them. It’s a life memory they’ll bottle forever and a story they’ll dine out on for years. Just as the song nears the end, a stray from the audience manages to slip past the cordon line and races on from stage right, catching security sleeping. He momentarily greets Alex on his way through to join the visiting foursome, stands and finishes off the chorus with them and then just as the song finishes and the security are about to swoop, leaps clear off the edge of stage left and disappears into the darkness before security can nab him... another ‘did I just see what I thought I saw?’ moment.


The ‘La la la la’ chorus of ‘OngOng’ follows and is a joyful singalong but that is nothing compared to the incendiary performance that is next.

Coxon winds up on his guitar and after Damon discharges another couple of water bottles, the band plunge us headlong into the frenzied two minutes and 15 seconds that is ‘Song 2’... the audience on the floor is just one heaving giant pumping mattress of a moshpit. Fists raised for every ‘WOOO...HOOOOOOOOOO!’ I glance around the arena and this excitement is echoed in every corner. Regardless of what anyone might tell you – in live performance, this is Blur at their absolute best and even after decades of performance, this little throwaway ditty has lost none of it’s punch. A stellar moment!


After the mosh workout, the band play us down an emotional plateau or two with ‘Pyongyang’ off ‘Magic Whip' (“a song about probably the maddest country in the world”). This is followed by the joyous ‘To the End’. It’s certainly a crowd favourite and I confess, I can barely hear Damon over the crowd singing the “Well, it looks like we might have MADE IT... TO THE END” ... more mirrorball magic and boisterous cheers from the 12,000 strong ‘Rod Laver Arena Choir’ as Damon beckons for a response from us all.

‘This Is A Low' rounds out the set proper and Albarn sings his absolute lungs out. I wonder if he has anything left in the tank as he bends over double at the song’s end. Coxon records a feedback loop which he leaves playing discordantly out over the PA during the encore break.

The roadies are feverously resetting the stage for a few minutes in the blue half-light and then before we know it, the boys are back and hammering out a great version of ‘Stereotypes’ from 1995’s 'The Great Escape'. A superb comedic moment when Damon ventures over to the stage left wing seating area. After all of Albarn’s fun drenching the crowd, some cheeky audience member gets their own back by emptying their water bottle all over him. Perfect shot. He shoots back a cheeky smile. The comedy doesn't stop there though. Graham Coxon faultlessly performs a full Ninja backwards roll while continuing to play a guitar break – how he managed that without suffering any collateral damage I’ll never know.

We’re on the home stretch now and it’s 'Girls and Boys' from 1994’s ‘Parklife’. Damon chides the audience until they sing the ‘Aah, Aah, Aah Aah, Aah, ah’ refrain just the way it should be sung. He is pogoing around the stage and clowning around now. He finishes the song off by headbutting the microphone and regrets the gesture immediately – rubbing his forehead vigorously during the next song.


‘For Tomorrow’ from 93’s ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’ is a welcome addition to the setlist and is another song that is gleefully sung back to the band at an even greater volume. Coxon’s guitar breaks are note-perfect and it sounds magic.

It’s now time to bring the set to a close, and it’s no surprise the boys choose to end such a fabulous night with one of their most beautiful songs... It’s the uplifting and quite stirring ‘The Universal’.
A gorgeous set of horn solos from the brass section take us up and right on home...

“No one here is alone, satellites in every home
Yes the universal’s here, here for everyone
Every paper that you read
Says tomorrow is your lucky day
Well, here’s your lucky day

It really, really, really could happen
Yes, it really, really, really could happen
When the days they seem to fall through you,
well just let them go.... MELBOURNE… YOU'RE BEAUTIFULLLLLLLL!


On reflection, the whole premise of tonight is quite amazing… Blur – all happily back together again – and playing brilliantly – in good old Melbourne after a break of 18 years – would they be able to recapture the heady days and would the Whip be indeed Magic?

All I can say is "Yes, it really really really DID happen”

Blur

Blur's Melbourne set list
Go Out
There’s No Other Way
Lonesome Street
Badhead
Ghost Ship
Coffee + TV
Out Of Time
Beetlebum
Thought I Was A Spaceman
Trimm Trabb
Tender
Trouble In The Message Centre
Parklife
Ong Ong
Song 2
Pyongyang
To The End
This Is A Low
ENCORE
Stereotypes
Girls & Boys
For Tomorrow
The Universal

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