Britain’s best band of the last 30 years? There’s certainly a few names which may well stake a claim to the title. However, try telling those crammed into Eastbourne’s Winter Gardens tonight that it’s anyone but Blur and you’ll have a fight on your hands. An hour before showtime and the place is packed, a palpable electric tension and anticipation in the air which only a band like this can elicit.
But what makes Blur contenders for this crown? For starters there’s Damon Albarn. Musician, songwriter, producer, opera composer. Tonight though he’s very much back as the quintessential Britpop frontman and you can’t keep your eyes off him. Resplendent in indie sportswear (of course) he’s like a superhero wearing a (Fila made) cape and we’re suddenly transported back to the mid 90s and a sweaty Parklife era gig in a smoke filled venue in Camden. Jumping onto the barriers right from the off he performs many of the songs holding onto the hands of the front row. A mutual love and appreciation quite clearly emanating from both performer and audience.
Kicking off with new song ‘St Charles Square’ it’s all angular guitars and Scary Monsters era Bowie complete with Albarn howling like a man possessed. It offers a huge statement of intent for forthcoming album ‘The Ballad of Darren’. The song also provides another piece of evidence in declaring Blur the best of the best: Graham Coxon. His post-punk like guitar lines in the song offer a menacing intensity and his level of inventiveness and skill continues throughout the set. Later on the guitar line we know so well from the end of ‘Coffee & TV’ once again crackles and buzzes delightfully.
After the tantalising glimpse into the new record the rest of the set’s first half leans heavily into the earlier material, especially from ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’. We’re treated to ‘Coping’ – being played by the band for the first time in 20 years – as well as a bold and brash ‘Chemical World’. As the show is being used as one of four intimate warm ups before the summer’s two Wembley Stadium events it makes sense for the big hits to get an airing too however. ‘Beetlebum’ still provides a discordant slice of bitter-sweet melodic pop whilst ‘End of a Century’ seems to have everyone in the venue singing together.
As what might be expected after 8 years away there is a slight roughness around the edges in parts. After a timing mistake by Albarn at the start of ‘Trimm Trabb’ the song is restarted and thereafter the song ends up feeling a little hesitant. ‘Tender’ too is perhaps missing the depth of a gospel choir who appear on the record. Hopefully they’ll make an appearance when Blur play the song at Wembley this summer. One performer who will undoubtedly be joining them in North London is Phil Daniels who rocks up dressed appropriately in a Sergio Tacchini tracksuit top to lend his famous spoken vocal to ‘Parklife’.
After the obligatory set closer ‘This is a Low’ the band of course return for an encore. New single ‘The Narcissist’ with it’s nostalgia themed lyrics is in a perfect two-step with the youthful swagger of ‘Girls and Boys’ coming just before it. The 30 year time period between writing those two songs has brought us joy after joy from this band. Tonight is a glorious celebration of that.
Photo: PR Provided