Killing Britpop, then kicking the corpse

Are Blur the new Sex Pistols? Yes, if their punked-up, perversely uncommercial Newcastle gig was anything to go by; ROCK

I wonder why Blur didn't just leave questionnaires on the door of the Newcastle Mayfair on Wednesday. "What was the B-side of our second single?" they could have asked. And: " 'Sing' is featured on the Trainspotting soundtrack. On which Blur album did it appear?" By denying admission to anyone who got the answers wrong, the band could have weeded out all the Johnny-Come-Latelies who didn't buy their records before Parklife. And that, was exactly what their show seemed designed to do.

Favourites from their last two albums made up only a third of the set; and a couple of those songs ("Girls and Boys" and "Stereotypes") were victims of GBH, if not outright murder, with Damon Albarn shouting each syllable in a mad, monotone staccato. The rest of the gig consisted of early material, to prove there was life before Parklife, and tracks from their forthcoming album, Blur (Food), to prove there is life after it.

"There are no brass sections," says the press release that comes with advance copies of the album, "no eccentric English characters, no acerbic social commentaries, and ... no pristine pop production." In short, there is nothing left of what made Blur the unique trendsetters they were. Having read one too many reviews condemning their music, inaccurately, as wannabe Chas'n'Dave, they've opted for wannabe Pavement instead. It's such a sudden U-turn that I'm surprised they're not in hospital with whiplash.

This switch from Britpop to Yank-indie means, effectively, that the music and lyrics have to be deliberately sloppy. "I didn't try to be witty [on the new album]," Albarn boasts on the press release, as if being one of the cleverest lyricists of your gen- eration were something to be ashamed of. So, it's goodbye to: "He takes all manner of pills/ And piles up analyst bills/ In the country." And hello to: "Beetlebum/ What you done?/ She's your gun./ Now what you done?"

The good news is that the melancholic melodies and skewed New Wave riffs remain. Most of the Blur songs still sound like Blur songs - it's just that they sound like Blur songs played by drunkards.

Still, Blur drunk can play a lot more better than most bands sober, and a small club is a fine place to see them prove it. A brass section and a keyboard player were there to help out on the Great Escape/ Parklife songs, but this time around the focus was on the principal players, particularly Graham Coxon, one of the country's best guitarists, who enjoyed hearing his scrapes and crunches and squeals at the front of the mix for a change.

Alex James's speedy, spikey bass-playing is under-rated, too, probably because his air of nonchalance is so total that he wouldn't know "chalance" if it spat in his champagne glass: Albarn and Coxon were several bars into the opening number before James got around to finishing the bread roll he was munching and picked up his bass. A few minutes later, though, and even he was shaking his fringe relatively energetically. What's more, he didn't sit down throughout the whole show - and bearing in mind his customary level of exertion, that's almost as impressive as if he had leapt around like Pete Towns- hend attached to jump leads. Which is precisely what Coxon and a reckless, glassy-eyed Albarn did.

By choosing to go on a club tour, Blur were broadcasting a clear message: "We no longer aspire to filling Knebworth, because a Knebworth-filling band would never be radical enough to change direction, and to play so few crowd-pleasers." It was an exhilaratingly defiant performance, and if some of the fans I spoke to afterwards were disappointed by the show, it was for the same reasons that Blur must have been pleased with it: because it was perversely uncommercial, punky, and a dramatic escape from The Great Escape. They can't be criticised for anything, except for doing what they set out to do.

Their support act was the Sneaker Pimps, whose guitary, sassy trip-hop resembles a collaboration between Moloko and Elastica. However, they're not as captivating live as they are on last year's album, Becoming X (Clean Up), partly because they don't have the distinctive melodies that the two bands above can lay claim to; partly because singer Kelli Dayton doesn't overcome her nervousness, for all her sterling efforts to be slinky; and partly because they are a three-piece studio band, fleshed out to a five- piece for concert purposes, and they don't yet come across as an organic unit.

Super Furry Animals have no such excuse. They're Rehearsal Rockers: the sort of band who believe they're not performing to an audience at all, but are allowing people to witness their informal, private practice, just as long as those people keep quiet and don't touch any of the wires. Dressed in Cast's cast-offs, these charisma-free Welshmen's idea of a show is to have all five members facing in the same direction at once, and they don't even succeed in that, what with the keyboard player's evident fascination with the amplifier behind him.

For once, though, this was a Rehearsal Rock concert that works. What was most exciting about the Furries' gig at the Astoria on Tuesday was that it did seem like a practice, and one that could have tumbled to a shambolic halt at any time. The psychedelic-glam-punk songs, from last year's stratospherically acclaimed Fuzzy Logic (Creation), are precarious structures indeed: towers constructed from incongruous segments and time signatures. They're direct and tuneful, but so parlously balanced that you can never be sure if the band can keep them upright.

The two guitars battle for supremacy. Gruff Rhys's paradoxically ungruff voice stretches to breaking point and beyond. The harsh drum sound is meticulously designed to give the listener a thudding headache. And the keyboard smears the whole haphazard edifice with whatever Space Invader bleeps and whistles it can muster.

Visually, the Super Furry Animals are standing stock-still - Liam-still, you might say. Sonically, they're scurrying and stumbling all over the place like Keystone Cops, and that's just about enough to be going on with. But that doesn't mean that any other bands can get away with Rehearsal Rock. So don't go getting any ideas.

Blur: Nottingham Rock City, 0115 9412544, tonight; Leeds Town and Country Club, 0113 280 0100, Mon; Southend Cliffs Pavilion, 01702 351135, Tues. Returns only for all shows.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

    £40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

    Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

    £26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

    £17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific