Blur, British Summer Time Hyde Park, review: The scale of Parklife doesn't suit Damon Albarn and friends anymore

Britpop megastars were crying out for a smaller venue

Ben Walsh
Monday 22 June 2015 09:29 BST
Damon Albarn performing in Hyde Park last night
Damon Albarn performing in Hyde Park last night (Getty Images)

If you went to Blur's 2009 comeback gig at Hyde Park, you were spoiled. That felt emotional, it felt like an "event". This feels like just another gig, albeit a very good one.

"Let's have it," Damon Albarn demands before the opener, the tangy ("Too many Western men, top buttons left undone") new track "Go Out", but unfortunately we rarely reach "it" tonight.

The elements - the rain, the early curfew (they're finished by 10.10pm, while it's still light) - are against them, which is a pity as their new record, The Magic Whip, their first as a foursome in 16 years, is a psychedelic (or "sci-fi folk") treat. It probably needs to be showcased in a more intimate venue, but the fortysomething quartet (bar drummer/lawyer Dave Rowntree, who's 51) clearly couldn't resist a hefty pay cheque.

Albarn, in a sweet gesture, dishes out free 99 ice cream cones to the front row, it's a slightly clunky moment, however, acknowledged by the charismatic frontman who admits "it's all going horribly wrong." The performance itself doesn't of course, with a fabulous back catalogue like Blur's it couldn't and there are more than enough highlights, including the sinister "Beetlebum", the anthemic "Song 2", "End of a Century" and "Coffee and TV", on which the once shunned Graham Coxon excels. Blur's mercurial guitarist, who appears to have been sporting the same striped T-shirt for the past 20 years, is thunderous on the punky, PiL-like "I Broadcast" and "Lonesome Street", a new track that would fit snugly on 1995's The Great Escape.

Is Phil Daniels wheeled out for "Parklife"? Of course he is, the actor gamely does his peacock strut like a sozzled uncle at the dying embers of a wedding. How many more times will the Quadrophenia star be required to do this? The grin-inducing "Girls & Boys" has always been a superior pop track, and it induces the biggest crowd reaction and sing-along. "This Is a Low" sparks less boisterousness, but this melancholy track from 1995's Parklife, has matured exquisitely and foreshadowed Albarn's more reflective, introspective material. The best of which being the heart-rending "Tender", which induces a spine-tingling, "Hey Jude" chant-along: "Come on, come on, love's the greatest thing".

Blur were always a pop band that strived - especially their lead singer - to remain relevant and their new songs, from the perky, Madness-like "Ong Ong" to the dreamy "Thought I Was a Spaceman" do feel vital, but they are crying out for a smaller venue. The Magic Whip's standout track, the haunting, poetic "Pyongyang", isn't given an airing here; presumably Blur will be doing a tour of the album soon? But then polymath Albarn is easily distracted by side projects, monkey operas etc.

"She's So High" and "Tracy Jacks" are notable absentees from their 23-song set, but the four-song encore - "Stereotypes", "Girls and Boys", "For Tomorrow" and gorgeously orchestrated "The Universal" - are suitably heady blasts of Britpop.

Their 2009 performance felt like the ideal end point for a tremendous British band but it was clearly a reboot and six years on the Essex quartet have morphed into a different beast. A less jaunty one than the one of their youth. It's probably best we all moved on.

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