Music: Damon keeps it in the family

ROCK Blur NEC, Birmingham James NEC, Birmingham Lightning Seeds Hammersmith Palais, London

It's been a rough old year for Britpop. Travis and the Stereophonics aside, the UK's white-boys-with-guitars have been beaten hollow by the UK's white-boys-and-girls-with-Abba-songs. Albums by everyone from Suede to Gomez have failed to find a handhold in the top 10, and in the dying weeks of the year, it's left to three bands to wrest 1999 back from Steps and Westlife.

Blur approach the task with a cunning strategy. Saleswise, their latest album, 13, has been unlucky for some, so the band have resorted to a "Singles Night" tour - they're playing all 22 of their singles, in chronological order. Considering how dismissive Damon Albarn can be of Britpop these days, I was expecting him to sing "Parklife" with all the relish he would a medley of Oasis hits, but he seemed more relaxed and genial than on any other occasion I've seen Blur in concert. He's made peace with his back catalogue. He introduced "Bang" as "definitely our worst song", then added, "But it's our thing, and you gotta deal with your own thing. It's like a family, innit?" Albarn is now a family man.

Maybe fatherhood has mellowed him. Or maybe the show's unconventional structure is therapeutic. What was surprising about this parade of singles was that it took the emphasis off the Parklife era more effectively than a concert consisting solely of their post-Britpop tracks would have done. It let the band demonstrate scientifically that they were making exciting singles long before "Girls and Boys" and long after "Country House".

I wouldn't recommend this A-Z route to every band, though: it can make for a predictable and badly paced evening. But to accompany Blur on a journey which spans the 1990s so neatly is fascinating - even moving, especially when live footage of the younger, more manic Blur appears on the video screens. Through the evening, we watch their hair get shorter and their waist measurements get bigger. We hear them go from baggy to Britpop to art-punk, from confident to cocky to petulant, before they come to rest with this year's poignant trilogy of bruised, resigned singles from 13, "Tender", "Coffee & TV" and, appropriately, "No Distance Left To Run". The show proved that Blur are not just Britpoppers; they're musicians who have never stopped evolving. Only the quality has remained constant.

There were some magical moments during James's concert. One came while Tim Booth was singing "Say Something" and he suddenly hopped off the stage and waded through the crowd. On and on he walked, with a spotlight picking out his red Chelsea Pensioner's coat as if he were the little girl in Schindler's List. Then the music stopped. Booth pretended to be stranded halfway down this warehouse of a venue. "How do I get back?" he wailed. "You don't," replied Saul Davies, one of James's guitarists. And so the group's mystique was deflated once again.

It's getting to be a habit. James were bound for glory at the start of the decade, but then, with impeccably bad timing, they took a sabbatical while Britpop was all the rage. They got back on track last year when The Best Of James went double platinum, and this year's tremendous Millionaires seemed set to complete their rehabilitation. So far, however, "seemed" has been the operative word. If early sales are anything to go by, Millionaires is mistitled.

Similarly, James's current arena tour should have cemented their reputation as one of the great British bands. Booth was certainly optimistic. As soon as he took the stage he was doing his trademark dance, like an unconscious man who'd been grabbed by the scruff of the neck and shaken violently by an invisible giant. "I think we're going to make up for a bad day at the office yesterday," he predicted.

But he spoke too soon. James's many uplifting anthems were suitably sublime, but there were long, rambling songs in between which the seven performers couldn't keep together. At one point they played so noticeably out of time that Davies had to joke about it. "Most bands do a thing called rehearsal," he quipped. "We don't bother. That's what makes us special." The backing vocals weren't quite in tune, Booth was losing his voice and there was confusion over the running order - what Davies termed "an arse/ elbow situation". By his reckoning, then, this was a very "special" show.

The Lightning Seeds' latest album, Tilt, is - like Blur's - noisier, sadder and more personal than usual. It's still very much a pop album, but it confirms that there's more to them than music for car adverts and "Three Lions" - which they didn't play in concert on Monday. This new, harder, darker Lightning Seeds were personified by Ian Broudie, who was more gaunt than he used to be, with shorter, spikier hair and an altogether less mole-like appearance.

But that's about all there is to report. Perhaps remembering one of their own better known refrains - "Don't ever change" - the Seeds put on a typically plain, low-key concert. Most of the bittersweet, bubblegum songs tripped along at the same pace, and the audience sang along so lustily that Broudie need hardly have been there. He hardly was.

James: Wembley Arena (0181 902 0902), tonight. Lightning Seeds: Cambridge Corn Exchange (01223 357851), tonight; Norwich UEA (0115 912 9000), Mon; Wolverhampton Civic Hall (01902 552121), Wed; Hull City Hall (01482 226655), Thurs

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed

Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?