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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing