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Blur live at the Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles
20 October 2015
Reviewed by Los Angeles Times

Blur lovingly sends up L.A. in its long-awaited Hollywood Bowl show

Image courtesy of andi sumpter
Image courtesy of andi sumpter

Blur’s “Parklife” is one of the most essentially English rock singles ever put to tape. But during Tuesday night’s show at the Hollywood Bowl, the band revisited the rambling 1994 tune with an appropriately L.A. twist.

The band brought out comedian Fred Armisen to update the song — originally a jaundiced ode to London city life — into a loving indictment of California yuppies.

“This song could be about Griffith Park, or Echo Park,” Armisen said as he took the mic in a white suit. Then came a torrent of riffs on cold-pressed juices, fitness crazes and a schedule where “I go to the dog park, and then I go to the cat park.”

It was beyond funny, and proved that Blur’s fundamentally British wit and affections are actually pretty universal.

Blur is on a rare tour in support of its latest (and quite good) album “The Magic Whip.” Los Angeles fans may have caught them at Coachella a few years ago, going back-to-back with the Stone Roses as a double-bill headliner (where Blur was widely regarded as the superior set).

Singer Damon Albarn isn’t one for nostalgia. He has an almost unbelievable range of projects — his animated band Gorillaz, a couple of acclaimed operas, a global-music record label and a solo career among them — to keep him looking forward.

But Blur’s Tuesday night set had incandescent glow evoking that prime era of mid-'90s British rock, when his bleary yet witty lyrics spilled over Graham Coxon’s slashed-up guitar lines, and Albarn’s wide interest in gospel, African and electronic music added depth and adventure to the night.

The band, joined by a small troupe of backing vocalists, horn section and keyboardists, covered the waterfront on their catalog. They started out with the droll and mock-rousing lead single “Go Out” from “Magic Whip,” but then explored the rest of that album’s distinct sort of urban isolation.

“Lonesome Street” paired a Beatles-y spaciness with crunchy '90s indie-punk, while “Thought I Was a Spaceman” dipped deep into the band’s ear for contemporary electronic arrangements. “Ghost Ship,” an album standout, evoked the band’s recording time in Hong Kong — “I’m on a ghost ship drowning my heart in Hong Kong …. Feeling out of body here, what can I do?” — with a soulfulness that suggested not all who wander through Asian megalopolises are lost.

Albarn can sometimes be flinty, but at the Bowl he ambled around stage in high spirits as Blur played a generous round of catalog staples. The bluesy and gospel-infused “Tender” was a rare crack in the band’s cockeyed humor, with a simple chorus of “Love’s the greatest thing” landing with total, believable sincerity (though of course, he followed it up with a funny musical ad lib about ending Donald Trump's electoral career).

Later on, the hook from “Girls & Boys” again landed as one of most ingenious songwriting conceits of modern pop-rock, and drew every last one of the Bowl crowd (many of whom had had a few preemptory pints to celebrate the occasion) out of their seats, where they stayed for all of the regal and gracious closer “The Universal.”

Even earlier at the obligatory “Song 2,” still Blur’s best known hit in America despite it being an ironic sendup of U.S. grunge of the time, Albarn introduced it with a beleaguered good cheer. He paraphrased a U.S. customs agent: “‘So, you’re in a band, what’s your name?’ ‘Blur.’ ‘Never heard of you.’ ‘Do you know … "Woo-hoo?”' '“Oh yeah!”

“So,” he added, returning to address the Bowl. “Would you like to Woo-hoo?”

They did, indeed.

August Brown
 

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