Photo Credit: Stuart Sevastos
It had been 18 years between visits for Blur when they played Perth Arena on Thursday night, or as frontman Damon Albarn aptly put it, “It’s been a while… A generation”.
I was mulling this over at the gig and I realised that the last time Blur played Perth in 1997, I was 8, not living in Australia and largely unaware of Blur, Britpop or indeed music in general. I say ‘largely unaware’, because I was given tantalising glimpses into the Britpop world thanks to family friends whose teenage daughter was most definitely a Blur fan (I seem to recall Damon’s face on more than a few posters).
A lot has changed in those intervening years. There have been side projects and operas, bust ups and most recently aborted appearances at Big Day Out. Though the band haven’t changed all too much, Albarn looks pretty much the same as he always does. Maybe just their pre-gig warm up has changed, a slight concession to their older selves. Before the near capacity crowd got their long awaited glimpse of the band, we were treated to an opening salvo from one of the heirs of Britpop, Jamie T. Unfortunately given the nature of these gigs, Jamie did find himself playing a half full arena for most of his set.
It was a set that was largely dominated from material from his new album Carry on the Grudge; with “Zombie” closing out his all too brief set and getting the early arrivals dancing. “Sticks ‘n’ Stones” and “368” were other highlights and the only tracks not from Carry on the Grudge. Ultimately I would have loved a longer set, but given the shortage of Splendour sideshows in Perth, I was pretty happy we got to see him at all.
Heralded on stage to the strains of ice-cream van jingles, and the cheers of a crowd filled with anticipation; Blur quickly launched into “Go Out” from new record The Magic Whip before launching into “There’s No Other Way” from the album Leisure. It may have been 18 years since their last visit, but right from the start it was clear this was going to be no nostalgia trip, instead newer tracks from The Magic Whip rubbed shoulders with classic tracks from Parklife and 1999’s 13 and others.
Albarn is a captivating frontman, a bit of a lad and a bit of a geezer and full of swagger. Right from the outset if he wasn’t launching himself into the crowd, he was throwing water instead. He stalked the stage, causing one long-suffering roadie all manner of troubles along the way. Where his band mates were static, Albarn was animated and energetic, leading a group of mockney youths on a merry run around during “Parklife” and even barrelling bassist Alex James over at one point.
Parklife, perhaps the band’s most famous record, provided the evening with six songs, including the records titular track which as I already mentioned featured the arrival of a group of lads from the audience, who made the most of their time on stage getting a few selfies, before their leader delivered an impressive rendition of Phil Daniels’ spoken word intro. It was a highlight of the set, even if the beginning was a tad awkward.
Other highlights included “Coffee & TV” which saw guitarist Coxon take lead vocals for the first time that evening. “Beetlebum” and “Song 2” were other highlights of the main set, with the latter getting the entire arena on their feet and inspiring a moshpit. Though it should be noted that tracks from Magic Whip including “Ong Ong” “Pyongyang” and “Lonesome Street” all stood up well against the older more tried and tested material.
After a short break we were treated to a four song encore, the highlight of which for me was a fantastic rocking rendering of “Girls & Boys” from Parklife. Whilst the show was brought to a close to The Great Escape’s “The Universal”. My one niggling complaint is that there was no “Country House” but I suppose we can’t have everything. The whole gig ebbed and flowed well, though the band did at times seem to favour some of their slower songs, and the pacing at times felt a little off. But all in all it was a great gig, incredibly enjoyable. Hopefully it won’t be 18 years before we see them again!