Blur, Goldsmiths College, London | Review

Goldsmiths College, London

A few weeks back, a triple CD called Common People: The Story Of Britpop came out. Blur don't feature on it, but you got the feeling it had been released to capitalise on the nostalgia unleashed by their reformation. Certainly, it cast the band's reappearance into sharp relief.

As evidenced by its contents, time hasn't been kind to the era when football was held to be coming home. The music sounds either tinny or hoary and it's packed with utterly forgotten names - who today holds a torch for Marion or Salad or Echobelly? Even the artists who have survived into the Noughties have done so in weirdly diminished circumstances: Oasis may still be packing stadiums, though no one apart from their thickest fans thinks they're as good as they used to be.

But uniquely among their peers, Blur's music seems to have potentiated by the passing of years. Warming up for forthcoming shows at Glastonbury and Hyde Park in the tiny student union of the art college where guitarist Graham Coxon and bassist Alex James once studied, they sound both more frenetic and punky and more nuanced and exploratory than they did at the height of their fame. There's something eerie and crepuscular about Beetlebum, frontman Damon Albarn's meditation on the effects of heroin.

Tender, a number one single, provokes a singalong, but the massed vocals of the crowd seem weirdly at odds with music this crestfallen and broken. Even their most famous songs seem to come at you at from strange angle: they play Parklife and Girls And Boys with an authentically thrilling, bug-eyed intensity.

If Damon Albarn turned out to be the most original musical thinker of the Britpop era (a cynic might say that's not exactly the most hotly-contested title, but he's still emerged as a genuine polymath, apparently capable of making any genre bend to his will with gripping results), then Graham Coxon might be the best musician, a genuinely inventive and brilliant guitarist.

Fittingly, the one song they play that dates from after his acrimonious departure, Out Of Time, benefits from his presence, spiking the lovely tune with shivering arcs of feedback.

On one level, it's not surprising that it's good. The Blur reunion has to be good, or else there's no point for its participants: it's not like they need the money, and Albarn in particular has nothing to gain and a lot to lose from taking a backwards glance in the middle of a post-Blur career built on looking forward to the next unpredictable project.

Tonight's venue emphasises that, thus far, Blur's reunion is a straightforward exercise in nostalgia: "This is really, really what it used to be like when we first started," notes Albarn from the stage.

More striking is the sense that it need not be. Given how varied and intriguing their past seems tonight, you'd be fascinated to hear what their future sounds like.

Blur might turn out to be that most improbable of things: a reformed band who could conceivably utter the phrase "we're going to play some new material" without causing their audience to groan, then run.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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