Arts: Pop: B-sides on display

BLUR ELECTRIC BALLROOM, LONDON

AS BLUR reached their 10th anniversary, suitably celebrated with the release of a hugely priced boxed set and press panegyrics that would make that other symbol of contrived Englishness, the Queen Mother (bless her) blush, it is remarkable to realise that for an entire generation of pop fans they are the Nineties.

Having outlasted or at least outstripped all their peers, save perhaps the now bloated Manic Street Preachers, and seen Oasis, once their deadliest rivals in the Great Britpop Wars, rather tamely implode, they have battled through bankruptcy, a suicidal alcoholic phase and eventually the pressures of serious fame to pin down a place as the nation's best-loved veterans, without ever changing their line-up.

Although the kids did not go crazy for their last album, the unusually revealing Thirteen, the Colchester men have long passed the stage of having to worry about their futures, or their past, in fact. Their reputation is now so assured that although they had announced that the set was to consist entirely of B-sides from their long career, tickets were sold out in an instant. Understandably, as the opportunity to see them in a horrible, unventilated hall in Camden Town had long been denied to their hard-core fans.

To their credit, they actually performed exactly as advertised. The 80- minute set consisted of no less than 19 songs wholly unfamiliar to any but the obsessives at the front, who cheered every one of Damon Albarn's asides. Most of this set consisted of the filler that modern record marketing ploys deem extra tracks to be. Mace, Threadneedle Street, Uncool Love, despite the band's best efforts, did not really deserve rehabilitation.

Inevitably a decade-long career means that some treats emerged. Inertia - proceeded by a snippet of that irresistible Seventies horror My Sharona - was a wonderful loping theme reminiscent of Pavement, the US shambling alternative rockers. Most interesting was the exquisitely dumb I Love Her; most bands work their favoured material through time, but this dopey garage thrash, with its irresistibly cocky chorus ("She don't care if I live or die, that is why I love her") saw a mature, skillful band performing with no time for reappraisal.

Still, the success of their albums and A-sides has probably not been accidental. Perhaps the lilting Young And Lovely might have sneaked in somewhere, but their finest bonus moment remained that genius Pet Shop Boys remix of Boys And Girls. Oasis always did have the Killers Bs.

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

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