September 22, 2023

a triumph of music, the tightness of the band and the energy of the audience

Blur's Alex James and Damon Albarn took the stage at London's Wembley Stadium on Saturday night

Blur’s Alex James and Damon Albarn took the stage at London’s Wembley Stadium on Saturday night – Ian West/PA

It speaks volumes about music fans’ love of nostalgia that, three decades after their creative and commercial peak, Blur played their biggest ever headline show to 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium last night. And the Britpop favorites don’t stop there – they’re doing it all again tonight.

A timid comeback from the guys who helped save British music from the sludgy hegemony of grunge in the early 1990s? Unlikely.

Two questions hung over this huge show. The first was whether Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree – all in their fifties – could put on a mega performance in a place usually reserved for the big productions of Ed Sheeran, Coldplay and Taylor Swift. Big shows these days rely on big concepts, from Coldplay’s flashing wristbands to Sheeran’s in-the-round sushi conveyor stage.

The second question was more profane: drummer Rowntree’s leg. Blur pulled out of a French festival last week due to his knee injury. Would his crooked appendage hold up?

As for the first question, there was something extraordinarily old-fashioned about this concert. There were no ego ramps or secondary stages, just a few giant mirror balls suspended above the crowd. However, there were dashes of eccentricity. Roadies raced around in scientist-style white coats, as they used to wear in Abbey Road. Members of the public wore weird paper masks, part of a marketing ploy for their upcoming album The Ballad of Darren.

Under a blue sky, this was almost the opposite of a flashy stadium show. The triumph lay in the music (a very English amalgamation of The Kinks, XTC and early Pink Floyd), the closeness of the band and the energy of the crowd. Blur dug deep into their catalog of early songs like Popscene, a masterpiece of synthpunk. Meanwhile, To The End, Coffee and TV and Beetlebum had the audience, what seemed like a person, singing along.

Blur frontman Damon Albarn

Blur frontman Damon Albarn – Lorne Thomson/Redferns

Albarn took every opportunity to yell “Wemblllleeeeeey” (who wouldn’t?). “I want to see you bounce,” the singer pleaded, later commenting on how “vaguely hilarious” it was that old men jumped across the stage as well. Guitarist Coxon played sideways the entire time, his shaky guitar playing proving to be a highlight. The sound was thick and meaty throughout. Bassist James, 54 and a part-time cheesemaker, is on a diet to fit into what he calls his drainpipe “Britpop pants.” He squeezed it pretty hard. That’s dedication. Even Rowntree’s dodgy leg seemed okay.

Phil Daniels came out to Parklife as raw and “Steptoe” as ever. There were tributes to Freddie Mercury and the old favorite Country House was even played. “Obviously we’ve waited our whole lives for this moment,” Albarn said. I don’t think he was joking.

Girls and Boys cemented its status as a Britpop anthem, while ballad Tender – with gospel choir – turned Wembley into a campfire sing-along.

BLUR will perform live at Wembley Stadium in London on July 8, 2023.

Blur was match fit for Wembley after a series of warm ups and appearances at European festivals – Zoran Veselinovic / Avalon

In recent weeks, Britain has been treated to a plethora of unforgettable performances. Elton in Glastonbury, Pulp in Finsbury Park, Bruce in Hyde Park, and now this. I wasn’t looking for faults in this show, but I wasn’t convinced it was going to be great. I suspected pride and fragmentation. I was wrong.

Albarn seemed surprised at the atmosphere. “I didn’t think it would be like this,” he said after Tracy Jacks. I see tonight’s concert is not sold out. If you live anywhere near Wembley then do yourself a favour. Maybe in this world of stadium pizza you don’t need flashing wristbands after all.

Playing Wembley Stadium again today (Sunday), then Europe all summer;

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