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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
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.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee