First Night: Blur, Rough Trade East

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On a high: Blur rise from the ashes (and the odd pot plant) at small show for fans

Drummer Dave Rowntree came in too early on "Girls And Boys", prompting Damon Albarn to joke that he was a "bit eager" before getting the words mixed up himself. Alex James fell off the stage and into a pot plant and Albarn quipped that he was "nearly the coolest man in the world".

In a packed record store in east London, Blur seemed to be enjoying themselves as they chatted throughout a free secret gig, any differences consigned to history.

They are preparing to play to more than 100,000 people, headlining the Glastonbury Festival. But on Monday night, just 170 fans were lucky enough to see the newly reformed band play inside Rough Trade East.

The free gig – announced that morning on guitarist Graham Coxon's Twitter feed – was the band's first public performance for nine years. They had played a gig for friends and family at the weekend at the East Anglian Railway Museum, near Colchester, but this was the first time they had reunited for their fans since Coxon left during the making of the band's 2003 No 1 album Think Tank, following a fallout with his childhood friend, singer Damon Albarn.

The four-piece band climbed on to the tiny stage, inches away from the crowd, to open with their first ever single, "She's So High", to rapturous cheers. It seemed a fitting beginning.

And for the next hour they played a 13-song set that included all the hits plus a handful of rarely heard, firm fan favourites including "Advert", "For Tomorrow" and "Out of Time", and ended with an emotional "This is A Low".

The teething troubles with forgotten words and pot plants continued with Albarn throwing water on to the crowd and bouncing around the stage for "Popscene" before getting the microphone wire tangled up so badly that a roadie had to come and sort it out. But it was the music that mattered, and it reminded everyone there just what great songs this band has to its name. Rowntree teased the crowd with a slow start on "Song 2" that gradually increased before that famous riff from Coxon raised the roof.

"Parklife" was equally well received after Albarn stole some horn-rimmed glasses from a punter before shouting the lyrics directly into the faces of the delighted front row.

There was no encore however, despite the fans begging for more. When asked how he thought it went, James said: "You tell me. There were a lot of people crying."

The gig marked the release date of their new collection of hits, Midlife: A Beginner's Guide To Blur. It was a rare opportunity to see them at such an intimate venue. They will play to thousands at Glastonbury's Pyramid Stage on the Sunday night – their first appearance at the festival since 1998.

In March, Glastonbury organiser Michael Eavis officially confirmed the band to play the festival. Each band member now has his own agenda, be it politics, studying law or making cheese, but the big question is whether Blur will go back into the studio.

Coxon didn't rule it out: "It's up to us," said the guitarist. "But I wouldn't mind doing it." He said the decision to get back together was a result of them getting older and letting go.

"The weirdness disappeared. Before we just needed some time out but didn't know how to tell each other."

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