Blur last played in Perth at Metro City way back in 1997, and it’s a night that I’ll never forget. It was the last show of their Australian tour supporting the Blur album, and they just kept on playing. The lengthy seven-song encore was great for the (real) fans, however much of the the crowd was only there to hear Song 2, the final song of the night. By the end, the impatience level reached a point where I was happy to get out without being trampled in a drunken riot. Fast forward 18 years later, and we’re all a lot older – as Damon Albarn himself described the gap, “just a generation or something like that”.
I was a big fan of both Blur and Oasis in my early twenties, and although I still love the work of Noel Gallagher, it’s the songs of Blur that have meant more to me as I’ve grown older and they’ve dislodged Pink Floyd and Radiohead as the band I listen to the most today. Their new album, The Magic Whip, was a fantastic surprise, and fits in perfectly with rest of their work – mercifully, it’s not the sound of an act doing it for the money.
With eager anticipation I watched Blur’s headlining set at last weekend’s Splendour in the Grass, and was a little disappointed to see what looked like a band going through the motions. Thankfully, Thursday’s show at Perth Arena couldn’t have been further from it – it was, quite simply, a stunning performance.
Right from the start, it was clear that Damon was going to be as animated as ever, playing with stolen hats and confiscated umbrellas and even knocking Alex James over at one point. He continually bounded around the stage and made several trips into and on top of the crowd. Damon’s security and stage crew must hate his use of a corded microphone, they did a great job of not tripping him up or garroting anyone when it had to be carried over the crowd like a washing line.
There were no flashy stage sets or video screens to be seen, just a simple backdrop which didn’t really need to be there. How skilled the members of Blur are as individual musicians – and how tight they are as a band – was clearly evident in this flawless performance. They seemed to enjoy being on stage, which was great to see. After all, it’s not as if they need
Damon’s showmanship aside, Graham Coxon captivated the crowd with his guitar work, moving between chaos and control with ultimate precision. Alex strutted around as cool as ever (although no cigarette) and Dave Rowntree on the drums – wow. I’d never really appreciated how much of a machine he is, playing with pinpoint accuracy but also frenetic when required, like at the end of Trimm Trabb (which was followed by My Terracotta Heart, presumably to give him a few minutes to recover).
The set list drew mostly from The Magic Whip and Parklife, with each of Blur’s other albums also represented. I was a little sad that the Modern life is Rubbish era was largely ignored, but was thrilled when they dropped For Tomorrow in the encore for one of the biggest singalongs of the night. I do wonder why they picked Stereotypes to start the encores, it’s a rather odd choice.
My personal highlights were This is a Low (my favourite Blur song) and Thought I Was A Spaceman / Trimm Trabb, which ended with Damon screaming at the top of his lungs. Disturbing, amazing stuff. The typically sedate Perth crowd obviously enjoyed the show, although Damon had to threaten not to play Song 2
unless everyone stood up. I was hoping they wouldn’t if I stayed seated, but no such luck – I’d rather they played Popscene instead, but obviously I’m in the minority there.
I’m struggling not to declare this the best concert I’ve ever been to, as it’s hard to dislodge Radiohead at the Entertainment Centre in 1998, just three months after the last Blur show. It’s close, though.
Magic Whip? Pure magic, more like. I just hope I’m not pushing 60 before I see them in concert again.
Setlist: 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 / My Terracotta Heart / Tender / Trouble in the Message Centre / Parklife / Ong Ong / Song 2 / Pyongyang / To the End / This is a Low / (encores) Stereotypes / For Tomorrow / Boys and Girls / The Universal