ROCK / Two hours before a master

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The Independent Culture
THE POSTCARD handed to each arriving punter at the Palladium said wistfully of Richard Thompson: 'When will the world wise up to this remarkable man?' Just as soon as there is an international swing towards brutal domestic barnies sung plaintively over medieval folk melodies, presumably.

In the meantime, his gigs are greeted by full attendances and, depending on the ferocity and length of his guitar solos, either hollering approbation or slack-jawed astonishment.

His band was a slim combo of four. Danny Thompson - no relation, except in hair loss - played superb stand-up bass. Pete Zorn switched from sax to mandolin to guitar, sometimes within the same song. And Dave Mattacks, Richard Thompson's on-and-off drumming ally since Fairport Convention days, thrillingly combined subtle time-keeping with violent fills.

Thompson had already stunned punctual arrivers with an acoustic solo of 'I Ride in your Slipstream', savagely bending notes without so much as a grimace. With the band, he moved to electric guitar, splaying warped, seething cadences over the elongated run-out of 'The Way that It Shows'. He scorched on and on, occasionally bending at the knees, his sole concession to the feats of guitar mastery needed to bend strings up, hit them, fly to another fret, pull off a rococo flourish and treble the intensity.

Always unpredictable in his choice of songs, he Tardis'd back to 1970 (Fairport's 'Now Be Thankful'), screeched forward to 1986 ('Al Bowlly's in Heaven'), sent up his classic 'Tear-stained Letter' with some Hank Marvin footwork and, on the notoriously fearsome 'Shoot out the Lights', allowed Zorn a disarmingly sprightly mandolin solo.

As always, his spiels belittled his efforts - 'bit past it, should be in bed' - but a Thompsonian wisecrack must never be taken at face value. During a lengthy comic skit at the expense of Danny Thompson, he simultaneously managed to tune his guitar to D. Cue widespread disbelief and envy from guitar players in the audience. All this and neopsychopathic foxtrots too. Absolutely incredible.

The first night of the Blur tour, at Nottingham's packed Rock City, was fainting room only. On stage, the beaming Damon Albarn regularly flung water over the front rows, calming them for a crucial moment or two, only to announce 'Advert' or 'Girls & Boys' - three minutes of unalloyed limb exhaustion.

The exhilaration felt by Blur over their No 1 album, Parklife, has given their music a wonderfully rosy glow, and old songs like 'She's So High' and 'Popscene', once delivered in petulance, are now buoyant and celebratory.

Parklife itself, a difficult album to play live, was culled for one unlikely triumph after another. Augmented by a keyboard player, Cara Tivey, they premiered the new single, 'To the End', a rare Blur ballad. The crowd were already word perfect. For 'End of a Century', Albarn doubled up on organ, one of seven instruments he plays on the album. Again, word perfect.

Blur had never looked so happy on a stage, or so completely confident. When Albarn swallow-dived into the crowd during 'Popscene' and disappeared, the band played out the song as an instrumental without even exchanging looks.

The following night they were due to take charge of their new set, which includes three 20ft tasselled lampshades, suspended over the stage. But their final encore at Rock City, the fittingly climactic 'This is a Low', needed no gimmickry - not for the three or four people seen weeping their way through it, anyway. Blur really have arrived.

A couple of rungs lower down the ladder, the Boo Radleys were making impressive leaps at the Garage in Highbury. Where once they were a blizzard of noise, now they are a hurricane of individual sounds: squealing guitar feedback, pealing organ, a trumpet straight out of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.

'Buffalo Bill', a new song, was a clippety-cloppety western theme diverted through sheets of white noise, and sounded excellent. Guitarist Martin Carr frowned beneath an electric shock of ginger hair as each shrieking note was eked out. The singer, Sice, sported a dapper combination of bald head and smart grey suit. Someday soon it will all happen for the Boo Radleys.