Blur live at the Munchenbryggeriet,
Tender is the night. Tender are the
ears as the Swedish cold takes hold. And tender is the
sight of Damon Albarn smoking a cigarette. As you
may have heard: when there's pretty much nothing else
left, you've got to cling to something. A thump of a
massive bass drum, and he's off again with his private
motto. "C'mon, c'mon, get through it...".
Get through it is right. No longer part of
indie pop's reigning couple, no longer a cultural
commentator, no longer, even, the would-be evolver of a
new lo-fidelity sound, everything has changed for Damon
Albarn. Even tonight's location is a euphemism for a
psychological condition: nearly four years ago, Blur
held the official warm-up gig for their 'The Great
Escape' album in a Camden pub. And now, for new album
'13', have you heard? Blur have completely
gone to Sweden.
It's an ironic thing, but the terrible truth
is that for Blur to get properly back on track, to
truly rediscover the genius streak that left them about
halfway through 'The Great Escape', Damon
Albarn had to lose everything. Relationship. His
mind, slightly. But along with this, he's lost bad things
too: the self-consciousness that made the
much-deliberated frazzlement and hard-to-be-a-rock-star
shtick of 'Blur' difficult to stomach, not to
mention the feeling that there's anything left to lose.
He's gone. Albarn, he bark like Mark E Smith.
Albarn, he dance like Michael Stipe. Albarn,
his music's out to lunch.
For here, for an assembled crowd of record
company employees from around the world and about a
thousand moderately excitable Swedes, he presents
derangement in a cup, and it is fantastic.
Like you know already from forthcoming
single 'Tender', this is all about getting through
it, and so by coming and playing his new album virtually
all the way through - bar Soft Machine-like epic 'Caramel'
- you see the death-defying leaps through flaming hoops
that he and Blur have leaped. They can be The
Dead Kennedys (this is 'BLUREMI'). They can be
Bowie raised on a diet of 'Song 2' ('Bugman').
Only in the "one that Graham sings", 'Coffee
And TV', do they remotely resemble anything of their
former compositional poise.
Right at the end, there's pure heartbreak,
and this is a song called 'No Distance Left To Run'.
Graham bends a string of dissonant moroseness, and
what steps forward is the full might of Blur's
power when unleashed on something as genuine as sorrow. "When
you see me", Damon chokes, "turn
your back and walk away". It is heartbreaking.
Perversely, though, the whole event seems to
be completely enjoyable. Pushing a set of new and
nine-tenths unheard material forces the issue of Blur's
- post-Britpop, post-'Song 2' - identity on their
own terms even more. And back to basics is the thing: Blur
are back to working it as they had to in 1990. For a
start there's the nearly ever-present guitar, the sneaky
cigarette. But elsewhere it's the monkey-boy haircut, and
the pure boundless effort of Damon's performance.
It's the things that made him Damon Albarn, before
he was Damon From Blur.
There are even larks. Ever mockney, Damon
announces a song as 'Bowel'. Everything stops as Graham
shakes his head at the regional disingenuousness of
Damon's pronunciation. "'Bowel'?" he
says. "Eh?" The song is called 'Battle',
and Graham is laughing. Damon jumps a song
in the set list, and Graham loses it.
"No-no-no-no!" he panics. "You're freaking
me aht!" "Freaking me aht? Oh man!" says Damon,
clutching his temple at the expense of Graham's
Get through it? You could say so: with music
as distinct from any of their own as they are distinct
from each other. The nervous wreck. The one with the
newly broken heart inside his Fred Perry. The ponce,
and... well, and Dave. Lucky bastards. Lucky '13'.