The 2008 reformation of English alt-rock heavyweights Blur never registered as a notably realistic prospect in the years preceding their lengthy hiatus. Be it other musical ventures, political leanings or (if you are Alex James) cheese making, the band were pursuing life outside of Blur, not to mention the members continually drumming home that there were no plans for Blur to reunite. My my, how things can change over time. Fast forward to 2015, and a world tour for the band’s latest offering The Magic Whip is in full swing. Perth Arena was buzzing upon arrival, and rightfully so. This Australian tour marks 18 years since the four piece have visited our shores. That is an awfully long time between drinks.
The night’s aperitif came in the form of Jamie T and his wonderful band. The five piece played a tight set and complimented one another to a (pardon the pun) T. It is worth mentioning that while T’s recorded material is impressive, his range as a musician in a live setting is truly where he shines. Set opener Limits Lie and 368 were especially good: the former a brooding indie rock anthem, the latter showcasing T’s freestyle skills, coupled with a soaring chorus. The catchy Rabbit Hole and a blistering paced Zombie closed the support slot in rather energetic fashion. Hats off to you, Jamie.
Emerging on stage to a riotous applause and following a number of short ice cream van jingles, the extended band including a brass section, four backup singers, and a percussionist, launched straight into Go Out. Frontman Damon Albarn paced the stage with a calm swagger, high fiving plenty of patrons in the process, while the rest of the band commanded on stage. Older track There’s No Other Way saw one of many huge singalongs for the evening, as well as Albarn sporadically jumping around like a mad man.
Throughout the duration of the band’s set, it appeared a rather difficult feat for Albarn to stay in the same vicinity for an extended period of time. He ventured off the stage and into the crowd a number of times, and he was very liberal when it came to sharing water with the front few rows. Stay hydrated, kids! Albarn’s band members were a bit more subdued however. Guitarist Graham Coxon thrashed about a few times, bassist James was content to groove along and Dave Rowntree kept perfect time behind the skins. Blur may not look the part, but they are rock stars in their own right. They know their craft, and they know it well.
The grungy Coffee & TV utilised the backup singers to perfection in an extended harmonious choral outro, while Tender’s country twang and lyrical content of love lost had the entire Arena swaying and singing with all of their hearts. For the swinging track Parklife, Albarn invited a number of people from the crowd on stage who he stated “looked like they were from 1994”. While the group clicked photos on their phones, one geezer who sounded suspiciously similar to Phil Daniels, assisted on vocal duties, and he did a damn fine job. The crowd were also in pitch perfect form, reciting each line with precision. Once the madness quelled, Rowntree pounded out the unmistakable drumbeat for Song 2, which garnered mild hysterics from the audience. Hearing “woo hoo!” shouted in unison from the thousands of fans was something for the ages. As the main set drew to a close, the band carried out the standard encore shtick. Entering the stage for the rollicking Girls & Boys, the bouncy For Tomorrow, and closing out with the emotional gut punch of The Universal was the perfect end to a fantastic night of good vibes, singalongs and plenty of nostalgia.
Albarn and co have devised a very even spread of old and new tracks into their set list, and despite the non-immediacy and sometimes more mellow nature of the The Magic Whip, its inclusion into the set doesn’t feel forced. Considering how diverse Blur’s back catalogue is, it is somewhat surprising that their set list flowed as well as it did. The show was a breathtaking reminder of how a band can reinvent themselves album after album without fault, all the while remaining absolutely relevant. A true testament to one of the class acts of the past near on 30 years.