“Say ‘hola’ to la luna,” says Damon Albarn, turning thousands of heads towards the full moon that is casting its beautiful glow, adding to a magical atmosphere.
Only last year, Blur’s frontman suggested that their Hyde Park Olympics gig could be their last but, judging by tonight’s performance – the first of several European festival shows this year – the Britpop band enjoy playing live too much to give it up.
Now in its 11th year, the Barcelona festival has grown to 45,000 attendees. Its ever-strong line-up this year includes Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Postal Service, Hot Chip and Phoenix.
Crowds flock to see cutting-edge, experimental acts at the striking concrete setting overlooking the sea. This isn’t a festival where people browse the latest pop sensations. In keeping with the city’s late partying hours, bands begin around 4pm and play through the night (Blur are on at 1.30am), which proves an endurance test for the mainly thirtysomething crowd.
The Friday sees UK acts shine. James Blake is hypnotically compelling despite the introspective nature of his glitchy electronic singer-songwriting, while The Jesus and Mary Chain charm with their shoegaze rock. Just before Blur, another of the UK’s indie treasures, The Wedding Present, play a surprise set.
But it’s when Blur take the stage that the party begins. Playing a greatest hits gig that sets the party vibe with opener “Girls and Boys”, they take us back to their Nineties heyday with infectious energy. Albarn cuts a youthful figure as he leaps about the stage like a teenager letting off steam, conducting Dave Rowntree to crank up the drums, while Graham Coxon hunches zealously over his guitar, contributing urgent backing vocals. Only the black-clad Alex James postures serenely.
They unleash a feverish performance of “Popscene”, while “Beetlebum” swells with a nostalgic singalong chorus, building to a cacophonous crescendo. They succeed in balancing high energy and pathos. The heady pop bursts of “Country House” and “Parklife” are followed by the poignant “Out of Time”; “Tender” and the melancholic “This is a Low” are heart-swelling moments to unite a festival crowd. “Coffee and TV” shows off one of Coxon’s finest guitar solos, while the melding of gospel singing and brass on the timeless “The Universal” is majestic. Newest song “Under the Westway”, which Albarn plays on piano, already feels like a classic.
Blur are never less than thrilling in their commitment to giving it their all, and the bouncing fans are all theirs. “Song 2” is the appropriate finale, ensuring the crowd leave energised. After all, The Knife aren’t on until 3.20am.