Blur, Hyde Park, London
Britpop for today and for tomorrow
Monday 06 July 2009
Lord, I need to find/ someone who can heal my mind," Damon Albarn lamented on his crestfallen gem "Tender". The emotional, mostly thirty-something, 55,000-strong Hyde Park crowd lamented it right back at him. It felt like Blur's "Hey Jude" moment, everyone chanting "come on, come on, love's the greatest thing" and finally, it seems, we're all healed.
Albarn and Graham Coxon have, thankfully, kissed and made up, and both Brit-poppers look like they've shed 10 years since reforming. Albarn, in particular, was full of wide-eyed vigour, running on the spot from the riotous start, "She's So High", followed by the feral "Girls and Boys", to rousing finish, "The Universal". The 41-year-old was eager to please, wore a grin throughout and frequently descended into the throng to clasp sweaty palms. "Is all of this adequate?" he even enquired politely. Albarn is a theatrical leader, a natural showman; every great band needs one. And Coxon is an exceptional guitarist, ripping it up on "Song 2" and "Beetlebum".
Earlier in the day, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, the Chicago nine-piece jazz band, briefly illuminated with their heady blend of Afropop, hip-hop and funk; the Golden Silvers trio sprinkled some sun-kissed, inoffensive indie-pop harmonies; the Canadian electro duo Crystal Castles delivered some menacing, chaotic experimental beats and Foals supplied some sturdy, uncomplicated indie pop. However, bless them, none of them have material that can touch the sinister "Beetlebum", the anthemic "Song 2", "Coffee and TV" (a standout among many tonight), "End of a Century" and "The Universal", a splendidly orchestrated, gorgeous pop song.
The Essex four-piece started out as shoegazers with "There's No Other Way", which sounded, like all of their other hits tonight, crisp and vital, before becoming entranced by the idea of Britishness, infusing their punk-light, irony-heavy pop songs with postmodern irony and British cheeky-chirpy chappies, archetypes and dreamers – "Tracy Jacks", "Popscene", "For Tomorrow", all performed here. It was Michael Caine's Charlie Croker in The Italian Job and Tom Courtenay's Billy Liar, writ large; a musical melange of the Small Faces, the Kinks and Madness. The material felt comfortable, jolly and reasonably adroit, but it was a bit of failure, a splash of gloom and introspection that made Albarn and Blur noteworthy. Being, for a brief time, quite disliked for being, well, middle-class and not Oasis, splitting from his great love, Justine Frischmann, and falling out with Coxon, have done Albarn the world of good, turned him into a fully-rounded, substantial British artist; a constant innovator/re-inventor on a par with David Bowie.
It's little wonder that Albarn cried at Glastonbury; he looked a little weepy here, too, in-between the manic, vigorous po-going in his classic black Adidas T-shirt and jeans. Albarn's never been so loved. This is his moment – and he's in fine voice.
In the 1990s, Blur felt like the second best Britpop band (no not Menswear, Pulp), but that doesn't feel so clear now. This is a band who had a vision, a concept, and in Hyde Park and after all these years it suddenly all makes sense. There's a giddy moment, during Coxon singing "Coffee and TV", when you're actually overwhelmed by a tingly feeling of patriotism. Wow, Blur are ours and they're really good. Amazing even. After this triumphant, affecting performance, they really need to get back for good.
Albarn, a creative dynamo and clearly a fiercely ambitious individual, will always be involved with his, often breathtaking, side projects – his Monkey opera, Africa Express, The Good, the Bad and the Queen, not forgetting Gorillaz – but he needs Blur and, rather remarkably, we still need them.
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