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
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
The spider makes its break for freedom
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: Event Management and Marketing Admin Support

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

    Recruitment Genius: Lettings Negotiator

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Central London based firm loo...

    Recruitment Genius: Events / Conference Operations Manager

    £25000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot