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Blur underline their class at The Astoria


Review: Jack Foley

HAVING confounded the critics by releasing an album of measured brilliance despite the absence of guitarist, Graham Coxon, Blur once again delivered the goods in front of a sell-out crowd at London’s Astoria on Monday night (May 12), which underlined why they continue to be one of the most important bands of modern times.

Stripped of the relative safety of a studio and its lush production opportunities, the spotlight fell on Damon Albarn and co in more ways than one - most notably as they attempted to recreate the Blur sound of old to a nation of listeners tuned in to BBC Radio 1, which was recording the whole gig live.

And while replacement guitarist, Simon Tong (formerly of The Verve), was always going to struggle to recapture the idiosyncratic style of Mr Coxon, he more than held his own, refusing to become intimidated by the pressure of the occasion.

Not that Coxon was forgotten, as Albarn pointed out, before suggesting that the door remained open for the departed founder member to return in the future.

Blur took to the stage a little after 8pm, waving to the crowd as though they were greeting old friends, before launching into an accomplished rendition of the debut track on Think Tank, Ambulance.

The lyrics served as a convenient metaphor for the state of Blur today, with Albarn confidently singing that he had nothing to be scared about. He was right.

The bigger, maturer, more musically refined Blur proceeded to deliver a tight set, which expertly mixed most of the new album, with some choice picks from the past.

Hence, the popular and more sing-along likes of Girls and Boys, a signature tune and one of their most chart-friendly tracks to date, and Beetlebum, served to break up the more thoughtful newer numbers, such as Good Song, On The Way To The Club and Caravan.

Albarn, for his part, mixed the madcap ‘pop’ star routine of old, with the more accomplished performer that he is today, delivering some blistering guitar solos of his own, as well as that age-old ability to play up to the crowd with scant regard for his own safety. Where once he had to be restrained by his own bouncers from crashing into the speakers, he now took a run and jump into the crowd, for a spot of surfing, during a lively rendition of Popscene.

If there was any proof needed that Blur fans had forgiven him for the much-publicised rift with Coxon, then this was it; a less-impressed fanbase may have felt inclined to drop him.

But there was plenty to be impressed by, not least the band’s barnstorming version of Song 2, which managed to provoke the sweaty mosh-pit of old, or the sublime Tender, which benefited greatly from the ever-present backing singers, and the wider array of instruments being used.

MOR, a track from the self-titled Blur album, was another highlight, a slow-building, moody number, which eventually unleashed some stunning guitars, guaranteed to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

Blur have long held the ability to entertain the masses and, in Albarn, have as strong a lead singer as Coldplay’s Chris Martin. The passion with which they deliver their songs is not dissimilar, making the all-round effect one of lasting enjoyment.

But whereas Coldplay remain relatively new to the musical scene, Blur are seasoned campaigners and their musical progression was perfectly encapsulated in the well-chosen numbers, and the assured way in which they interact with their fanbase.

As such, the genuine Blur connoisseur could be found singing along, just as easily, to album tracks such as Badhead, an acoustic beauty taken from Parklife, or For Tomorrow (from Modern Life is Rubbish), while those who have just caught up, or jumped on the bandwagon, reserved their energies for the newer material, most notably the high-speed adrenalin rush of forthcoming single, Crazy Beat, or We’ve Got A File On You.

The presence of Fatboy Slim in the crowd, who collaborated on the album, served to heighten the trendy feel of the evening, while Phil Daniels’ appearance, during the prolonged encore, for a track which I must confess to never having heard before, capped a memorable occasion.

I could go on, but find I must restrain myself in order to avoid sounding repetitive.

It had been four years since Blur last played the capital, let us hope that the same amount of time does not have to elapse before the next batch of dates. For while the set may have ended on This Is A Low, the night itself provided one of the undisputed highs of the gig-going year.

 

 

 

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