Blur: the tour starts here

THE CRITICS ROCK
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Indy Lifestyle Online
TIRED? Irritable? Losing concentration? Don't worry, it's just the prospect of reading another article about Blur. But bear with me. I promise not to mention Elastica, "Britpop", "New Lads", the Kinks, or Camden, and will instead ask how good Blur actually are as a live band.

And so we come to the Morecambe Dome, a small, low but undeniably dome- shaped club. Home of The Good Olde Days ("Britain's Longest Running Music Hall"), it nestles between the seashore and the naked bulbs of the illuminations, 100 yards from a shop named Step Inside, Luv! and an amusement arcade called Oasis. "It's a daft place to play, this is," grinned a disorientated Damon Albarn. On the contrary, it's absolutely perfect.

The music's not far off, either. Drawn almost entirely from the last two albums (both Parlophone), it is - like the light show - violent and psychedelic at the same time. A few punky bars of "Top Man" and all worries about The Great Escape's paucity of crowd-pleasing pop are crushed by the Doc Martens of the pogoing audience. And anyone who thinks that Blur's songs play safe should hear them play "Mr Robinsons' Quango". The brass squirmed, the bass crunched, the guitar and cymbals heated up to white noise, and as Albarn squealed, "Ooh, I'm a naughty boy!" the girls and boys went wild.

But not Blur. They had wandered on stage rubbing their eyes and scratching their stubble. Dave Rowntree looked as if he'd just woken up. Alex James and Graeme Coxon looked as if they

just hadn't.

As for Albarn, I wasn't sure if he was pissed off or just pissed. For all his water-throwing and Avengers kung fu poses, he always has the nettled, far-away air of a man just doing his job, as if his antics are an attempt to kindle his own enthusiasm, rather than to add fuel to ours. It's not that he's motionless, it's more that he's going through the motions. He even treated the selections from The Great Escape as if he had already sung them as many times as, well, the songs from Parklife. You'd blame it on the size of the venue if he hadn't acted the same way at Alexandra Palace and the Mile End Stadium.

And yet ... somehow ... "This is a Low", which manages to set a shipping forecast to music without sounding like the King's Singers, rolls and crashes like an ocean. "Parklife", with Albarn replacing Phil Daniels on lead vocals, bounces like a beach ball. The teen idols of the day are close enough for their fans to touch; and, outside, the Blur logo has been projected, Batsignal-style, on the fronts of the buildings across the road.

It doesn't take long to realise that the point of the exercise, to measure the band's performing abilities while ignoring the euphoria of the occasion as a whole, is futile. Blur were responsible for a magical evening, even if it wasn't as good for them as it was for us.

On Monday, Lloyd Cole played a secret gig in Club Spangle in Camden (sorry) to warm up for the tour he begins in a fortnight's time. Not since Blur did the same thing earlier this year has "warm up" taken on such a literal meaning. The venue is as small and sticky as its name would suggest, and by the time Cole stepped on to a stage the size of a tea-tray at 11.15pm, the local mods were boiling hot under their collar and ties.

Cole was more suitably dressed in a short-sleeved beach shirt. Also wearing an awkward, chubby grin, and the stare of a maniac, he reminded you of the axe murderer described to TV camera crews by his neighbour as "nice, quiet boy, kept himself to himself, kinda gave me the creeps".

His best songs have a similar veiled menace. Tonight he flicked through his songbook, from "Perfect Skin" (from the early days with the Commotions), to the current Top 30 single, "Like Lovers Do". Another new song from his forthcoming album, Love Story (Mercury) was "Be There", which tackled the subject of unemployment by repeating "You've gotta be there" 70 times over a drugged keyboard arpeggio and scratchy acoustic guitar. The topic is personally relevant, he said, because last year he "felt like

I was on the dole".

True enough, he has not been a fabulous success lately. He returns from his hard- rocking phase in reflective mood, describing himself as an "elderly gentleman" and giving his literate, stylish songs space to breathe between the acoustic strums and the country-clean twangs. A few songs tip into twee folkiness, and should be avoided by anyone without an active interest in Morris dancing. The rest is mild music for weird people, weird music for mild people, and it should cause a stir, if not quite a commotion. Cole not dole.

Looking for Damon: see Review, page 22.

Blur: Clacton Oscar's (01255 421115), tonight; Bournemouth Showbar (01202 551685), Mon; Brighton Paradox (01273 321628), Tues; Great Yarmouth Ocean Rooms (01493 667890), Wed.

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