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
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas